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Broadcast News
Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter and William Hurt.

'Broadcast News'

By Matt Slovick
Washingtonpost.com Staff

The future network anchor has more looks than brains. The intelligent reporter can write brilliantly but dreams of sitting in the anchor chair. The talented and fiesty female producer throws her life into her work and is left with little time for play. They all work in the same Washington, D.C., bureau.

James L. Brooks wrote, directed and produced "Broadcast News," which walked into the Oscars with seven nominations but left empty handed. The three main characters were superb and received nominations – William Hurt as anchor Tom Grunick; Holly Hunter as producer Jane Craig; and Albert Brooks as correspondent Aaron Altman. Both Aaron and Tom fall for Jane. She's more compatible with Aaron, but he's her best friend. Although Tom stands for many things she despises, she can't ignore his charm and looks.

Although the setting is in Washington, you see the city in more realistic terms than most District films. The main characters spend most of their time in the office, in their homes or at social events. You get a glimpse of a house or a street corner or hear a street name. You don't get the standard shot of the Washington Monument-Reflecting Pool-Lincoln Memorial. One romantic scene is at the Jefferson Memorial. Also, military stories – not White House scandals – make the news.

The film handles a number of topics well. Do looks and chemistry with the audience matter on TV? Yes. Tom admits he sometimes has trouble understanding the news he is reading. Meanwhile, the highly intelligent Aaron, a tremendous writer, has no hope of being a network star. Also, network news is a business and ratings count. No matter how good the reports are, if the profit-margin isn't acceptable, layoffs will occur. And finally, driven people who work closely together have a hard time separating their professional and personal lives.

On washingtonpost.com: Post reviews from Style and Weekend; a special feature on Journalists in the Movies.


  • James L. Brooks also wrote, directed and produced "Terms on Endearment." Jack Nicholson, who had a minor role in "News" as network anchor Bill Rorich, won his second Oscar for "Terms." Nicholson said he didn't want to distract from the leads of "News," so he did not get paid or receive a credit. Ten years later, Brooks would write, direct and produce "As Good as It Gets," and Nicholson would receive an Oscar nomination and win an Oscar.
  • Brooks had tailored the role of Jane Craig for Debra Winger, another "Terms" favorite. However, Winger, who was married to Timothy Hutton at the time, became pregnant. They had a son, Noah.
  • The director said he was open to who Jane would end up with at the end. He told Premiere magazine: "After principal photography I got the idea for a cab ride at the end, and I set it up so that Holly didn't know Bill was on the set. Bill was prepared, but no dialogue. All he'd know is that he couldn't get on that plane and that he goes back and gets in that cab with her. I knew I'd get one take, and I knew that Holly wouldn't break character, and I'd get, who knows. ... So you can imagine the excitement built up to this. It's ready, and a guy on the crew gave it away by saying 'Bill' just before we started to roll, and it ruined it, and I had an out-of-body experience. (Hurt and Hunter) saw that scene later, and they both thought I should end the movie that way. But it just wasn't right."

    Washington Sites: The White House; Jefferson Memorial; 2039 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Apt. 301 (Tom's apartment); 600 East Capitol Street SE (Aaron's home, read a story about this house); exterior shots on Hillyer Place NW (where Jane lived). The street, which is only one block long, was selected because traffic could be controlled.

    Pull Over and Ask for Directions:
    As usual, the filmmakers use Washington streets but just make up directions. Some tips – call AAA or spend a couple of bucks for a map. Connecticut, Vermont and New York avenues exist as do 17th and 15th streets, and Thomas Circle, where Massachusetts and Vermont avenues cross with 14th and M streets. The following are the directions given by the ever-controlling Jane to cab drivers:

  • "Hey, we're going to Katz's Bar on 17th and Vermont (no such intersection). Connecticut's clear on Sunday, so take that over to 15th (the roads never meet). Then straight down Vermont and we should bypass Thomas Circle that way. If you don't go over 40 miles an hour we should catch mainly green lights."
  • Jane is leaving an airport, which has to be Dulles or National. She tells the cabbie: "Dupont Circle. Don't take the Beltway because at this time of day things are going to be ... go any way you want. (long pause) But New York Avenue is faster." Well, Dulles is west of the city, so you wouldn't use the Beltway or come close to New York Avenue en route to Dupont Circle. National is southwest. Neither New York Avenue nor the Beltway would be a route to Dupont Circle for anyone, especially a perfectionist like Jane.

    Memorable Scenes:

  • Jane wants to get a photograph of Norman Rockwell's "Coming Home" inserted at the end of a report by Aaron. Tom is observing and Blair (Joan Cusack) is waiting anxiously for the videotape, which she needs to deliver to the main control room. Jane hands off to Blair, who start a mad dash at deadline. She first runs into a man, a trash can and then a library cart. Next, someone opens a filing cabinet, and she slides underneath the drawer on her knees at the last second. As she's running, she yells for someone to open the door. Someone obliges but a woman on the other side is fixing the clothes of her toddler. Blair leaps over them but while avoiding another man, smashes into the water cooler. Now shes running, with a limp, and climbs the stairs to deliver that tape just in the nick of time.
  • After Libyan jets attack an American military base in Sicily, the station needs to go on air with a special report. The head of the station picks Jane to be exeutive producer and Tom to anchor. Aaron, one of the few Americans ever to interview Gadafi, is left out. As Jane prepares, she instructs Blair to make sure Tom's earpiece is working because she knows she'll have to feed him all the information. Tom prepares by pulling out a "professionally laundered shirt" from a box in his drawer. Aaron goes home to get drunk. Tom is like a puppet, delivering information and lines perfectly. Aaron, always the professional, turns on the television to watch. He calls Jane in the control room and starts supplying her with information. She sends it on to Tom, who seemlessly enters it into the report. "I say it here, it comes out there," Aaron says.
  • With layoffs on the horizon, Aaron finally gets his chance to anchor the news on the weekend when most of the staff is attending a upscale Washington event. He swallows his pride and takes a few tips from Tom, who explains the delicate skills of sitting on one's coat so the shoulders don't rise up, punching the lines and being a salesman. As the newscast begins, Aaron is overcome by an attack of flop sweat. The sweat falls from his brow like rain. During breaks the crew brings in a hair dryer and a new shirt. "This is more than Nixon ever sweated," he says. His big chance turns out to be a disaster and a huge embarrassment.

    Memorable Lines:

  • Jane to Tom during their first meeting: "It's hard for me to advise you since you personify something that I truly think is dangerous."
    Thus he leaves. She later tells Aaron on the phone: "I am beginning to repel people that I'm trying to seduce."
  • Jane confronts Paul Moore, a network executive who has decided to let Tom anchor a special report. She tells him Tom is not ready. Paul: "It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you're the smartest person in the room.
    Jane: "No. It's awful."
  • Tom to Jane after he anchored a special report. She was executive producer: "You're an amazing woman. What a feeling, having you inside my head."
    Jane: "Yeah, it was an unusual place to be."
    Tom: "It's like indescribable. You knew just when to feed me the next line the second before I needed it. There was a rhythm we got into. It was like great sex."
  • Aaron: "And in the middle of all this, I started to think about the one thing that makes me feel really good and makes immediate sense ... and it's you.
    Jane: "Oh, Bubba."
    Aaron: "I'm going to stop right now. Except that I would give anything if you were two people, so that I could call up the one who's my friend and tell her about the one that I like so much.
  • Tom: "What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?
    Aaron: "Keep it to yourself."
  • Aaron to Jane after he bombs as an anchor and realizes that she has fallen in love with Tom: "And if things had gone differently for me tonight then I probably wouldn't be saying any of this. I grant you everything. But give me this: he personifies everything that you've been fighting against. And I'm in love with you. How do you like that? I buried the lead."

    The Plot: Jane Craig, a driven news producer, and Aaron Altman, a veteran correspondent, work in the same Washington, D.C., bureau and share the same high ethical standards. They both are concerned about what's happening to television news – more fluff pieces airing over substantial news events; more good-looking and brainless talking heads making it in front of the camera. Enter, Tom Grunick. He can't write and even has trouble understanding the news he reads, but he's on the way up with a bullet.

    Although Tom represents what Jane fears, she still finds herself physically attracted to him. Tom sickens Aaron. He's not only on the rise professionally, but he's taking the woman he loves. When layoffs arrive, Aaron quits instead of remaining employed but stagnant. Jane is promoted to executive producer, replacing an old friend. And Tom is off to London, where he will be groomed to be the next network anchor.

    When it's obvious that he's lost her, Aaron gives her proof that Tom faked his tears while filming a report on date rape. Jane is enraged. Instead of going away with Tom to a island to test their relationship away from the office, she leaves him at the airport.

    They reunite seven years later. Aaron has done well at a Portland station and his married with a son. Tom has become network anchor and is engaged to a woman as attractive and most likely as vapid. Jane, who is dating someone outside the news business, has decided to go to New York as well to produce the network news.

    Rating: R for language, sexuality and some nudity.
    Release Date: 1987 (by 20th Century Fox).
    Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes.
    Director: James L. Brooks.
    Cast: William Hurt (Tom Grunick); Holly Hunter (Jane Craig); Albert Brooks (Aaron Altman); Joan Cusack (Blair Litton); Robert Prosky (Ernie Merriman); Lois Chiles (Jennifer Mack); Peter Hackes (Paul Moore); Jack Nicholson (Bill Rorich); Christina Clemenson (Bobby); Robert Katims (Martin Klein); Ed Wheeler (George Weln); Stephen Mendillo (Gerald Grunick)
    Seven Oscar Nominations: Best picture; William Hurt, best actor; Holly Hunter, best actress; Albert Brooks, best supporting actor; James L. Brooks, best original screenplay; Michael Ballhaus, best cinematography; Richard Marks, best editing.

  • © 1998 The Washington Post Company

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