There are no second chances or do-overs in live television. Just ask the cast of the Armchair Theatre play Underground who had to continue performing even though the star of the show, Gareth Jones, died during the live broadcast. The show, as they say, must go on whether your star drops dead, you have a wardrobe malfunction, or, as we see in this weekend’s Morning Glory, your co-hosts can’t stand one another.
The unpredictability of live television is exciting, so it’s not surprising that movies about TV have been around almost since the boob tube’s beginnings.
Just nine years after regular commercial network television programming began in the U.S. A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith’s 1957 film debut, showed the dangers of live television. The future Andy of Mayberry played Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, a charismatic television star whose career falls apart when an open microphone picks up a rant about his viewers—he calls them “idiots, morons, and guinea pigs”—during a live show.
That rant ruined Lonesome’s career but in Network the immediacy of a live tirade was used to much different effect. Peter Finch plays longtime news anchor Howard Beale who reignites his career with a series of angry diatribes and the catchphrase, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” The motto struck a chord with people and has since been referenced by everyone from Bill O’Reilly in his book Who’s Looking Out for You? to Samuel L. Jackson, who, in the television movie Un-broke encourages people to yell, “I’m broke as Hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
A very different slogan, inspired by the amiable goodbye Edward R. Murrow used to sign-off his broadcasts, served as the title of Good Night and Good and Good Luck. The story of Murrow’s battles against McCarthyism showed the power of early television, allowing Murrow to expose Communist hunter Joe McCarthy for what he was—a fear monger—live on air. “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason,” he said.
Perhaps the best movie about live television is My Favorite Year, a fictionalized account of Errol Flynn’s appearance on the variety program Your Show of Shows. It’s a frenzied and very funny account that breathes new life into the saying “the show must go on.” Best line? “I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!”