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The TV Set: A Movie 30 Rock

Published April 6, 2007 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Images property of THINKFilm.
The TV Set Poster The TV Set
The TV Set is an inside Hollywood comedy for people over whose head 30 Rock goes. Those people won't even understand that grammatical construction. I get that lots of people don't get HBO, so I won't go to the obvious standard, but seriously, there needs to be some minimum level of perspective to allow writers to satirize their own industry. It's just not enough to drop names and say that executives meddle too much.

Movie Review: The TV Set


The film opens by explaining pilot season to those who have somehow avoided all inside Hollywood stories in the last two decades. Then it centers on a writer (David Duchovny) who battles it out with studio execs (Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd) while his dream project deteriorates.

All the stereotypes are here. Fran Kranz plays the overprepared and overacting actor. Weaver plays the typical high strung exec, obsessed with numbers and suffering from acid reflux. Duchovny tries to play the game but can't hide his protectiveness of the material. Everyone spouts F bombs with no enthusiasm. It's like, "High powered executives swear, so say f*** whenever you can."

Most of the situations are obvious. The auditions with an absurdly dry line reader only point out that yeah, actors have to perform basically solo. And? Oh, the network wants to change the suicide because networks always water down "edgy" material. Because a guy moving home after a death in the family is so sacrosanct, god forbid it not be allowed to air as originally intended. Their most popular show is Slut Wars because that's a funny name.

When it gets crazy, there's nothing grounding it in reality. If we're supposed to believe that this poor writer is dealing with industry forces, they have to be real industry forces. Sure, execs would try to lighten up a downbeat story, but there's no way on earth they would think Kranz's character was good in his performance. Execs think about mainstream appeal and they would not pay somebody who clearly couldn't deliver for them. Don't bring up Paris Hilton. They know exactly what she's delivering.



The director shoots an entire take without featuring the speaking actors. If this is a world where total incompetents are running the show, that's not a real industry perspective. And don't bring up Renny Harlin. They never let him do TV.

To go back to the original example, in 30 Rock, there are crazy characters, but they still function in a real world. Alec Baldwin still has a sense of politics and business. His humor is approaching it from the absolutely wrong angle, but it's still believable that he could end up there.

The film remains watchable because it's real actors going through these motions, so at least it's not some film school rejects and their "brilliant" attack on the industry that scorned them. The costumer who knows how to manipulate an insecure actress is good. At one point, the different levels to witch Kranz overacts become unique. The writer's alternative to the suicide story is ridiculous enough to be funny. Scenes of market research are amusing though not hilarious.

Then they try name dropping to impress us, but their biggest names are Lucy Lawless and Jonathan Silverman. They reference more titles of sleazy reality shows.

Perhaps the first time I saw a filmed medium deal with these situations, I was forgiving but I hope I wasn't. I hope I still demanded that the filmmakers use these stereotypes to say something original. Like how The Player said that Hollywood gets away with murder, or that Stay Tuned said that TV is Satan. Please tell me I wasn't ever just sold on "Hey, they talked about Hollywood."

Ultimately, why should we want this writer to realize his artistic vision? He's just another writer. So it was inspired by his real life. Lots of true stories get changed. Why should people pay for him to do whatever he wants? It's their money, their show. I like Studio 60 but I'm not gonna get another season of it because I'm fast forwarding through all the commercials. I wanted more Quantum Leap, Sledge Hammer and Brisco County Jr but I didn't get what I want. Nobody's making a movie about me.

This idea that art should inherently be protected has to go. If his story were really so brilliant and moving, somebody would want to make it. I say this as a working writer. There are plenty of jobs. Stop bitching and earn yours.


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Fred Topel
Sources: Images property of THINKFilm.
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