This month, two highly anticipated TV series – Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom and House of Cards, the critically acclaimed Netflix original series – are available on DVD. Both shows deal with journalists and the power of the news media, a topic that was the subject of three smart, classic award-winning films.
His Girl Friday (1940), based on the Broadway play The Front Page, stars Cary Grant as Walter Burns, a newspaper editor who tries to get his ex-wife, reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) to write her last big news story, and maybe just prevent her from marrying insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) at the same time. Howard Hawks directed this screwball comedy to perfection, and the chemistry between Grant and Russell is on full display with witty, overlapping rapid-fire dialogue that you’ll want to watch over and over to make sure you don’t miss a single line.
Network (1976) is frighteningly ahead of its time. News anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has a mental breakdown on the air, but he is exploited when programming executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) hires him to star in his own TV show while colleague Max Schumacher (William Holden) helplessly looks on. Directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Paddy Chayefsky, this film predicts the merging of news and entertainment as well as reality TV. Its most famous line – “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” – captures the anxiety and unrest of urban America in the 1970s. This is a heavy movie about a heavy time.
Broadcast News (1987) is a romantic comedy set in a TV newsroom. Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is an ambitious TV news producer who finds herself falling for handsome new anchorman Tom Grunnick (William Hurt), in spite of the fact that his lack of journalistic credentials and knowledge of current events represent everything she is fighting professionally. Meanwhile, fellow anchorman Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) finds himself pining for Jane and struggling for airtime because he lacks Tom’s charisma. Acclaimed director James L. Brooks created a fine comedy that also has a lot to say about the state of news and the role of the professional woman in the 1980s who’s trying to have it all.