The TV Set
September 27, 2007
The TV Set (2006) is a satire of television that wants to be the next Network (1976) but opts for a much more laid-back approach. The film shows the inner workings of the T.V. industry and how a pilot episode is pitched, then produced, and, in this case, ruined.
Mike Klein (Duchovny) is a T.V. writer trying to get the pilot episode of his new show greenlighted by the network. Two actors audition for the lead role and the executives go for the one who plays it very broad, much to Mike’s dismay. This is only the beginning of a series of disappointments for the writer as the executives also object to a character’s suicide – based on the death of Mike’s own experiences and the crucial story point that the rest of the show hangs on. They feel that it is too much of a “downer” and want something more like Ed or Northern Exposure.
Mike is faced with a dilemma: does he stand up for the integrity of his show and risk being fired, or does he compromise as he’s done in the past? David Duchovny is fine as a beleaguered writer fighting for his vision but who learns to compromise his artistic vision for the sake of his family. His primary opponent (although, she wouldn’t see it that way) is Lenny (Weaver), a powerful network executive who believes that the world is ready for a Lucy Lawless sitcom and compliments an actress auditioning for the pilot by saying, “She doesn’t let the cuteness get in the way of her hotness.” Sigourney Weaver has the most fun as the tough executive who approves shows based on the opinions of her 14-year-old daughter.
Richard McAllister (Gruffudd), a young British executive, sticks up for Mike’s vision and for doing something different as he tries to get acclimatized to how American T.V. works. The tragedy of the film is how his idealism and individuality is gradually eroded by the system. Lenny nails it when she says at one point, “Original scares me a little.” This line sums up rather neatly why the networks play it so safe year after year.
The TV Set makes the very valid point that the networks care less about creativity and more about stroking egos. Anything that deviates from tried and true formula is questioned. Mike wants to do something different and has to fight for this every step of the way. This film seems to say that sex and broad comedy is what people, for the most part, want to see on T.V. – hardly a revelation. Making a T.V. show is often a series of compromises and it’s a miracle that anything decent ever makes it on the air. The TV Set shows the physical and emotional toll the process takes on people, adopting a very low-key tone (that is sometimes so low-key, it’s non-existent), quietly making its points. It is most definitely not a bad film, just not a very dynamic one either.
There is an audio commentary by director Jake Kasdan, actors David Duchovny and Lindsay Sloane, and producer Aaron Ryder. They all joke and banter with Duchovny’s dry, deadpanned jokes being a real treat. Kasdan says that he shot the film so that it felt like you were in the room with the characters. The filmmaker also talks about the benefits of working with digital cameras with Duchovny chiming in that they allowed the actors to stay focused because they could keep rolling and didn’t have to change rolls of film every so often. Everyone recounts filming anecdotes in this fun, loose track.
Also included is a commentary with Kasdan and executive producer Judd Apatow. They talk about the nuts and bolts of making a T.V. show and recount some of their experiences working on shows like Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared. They also talk about battling it out with the network over casting choices and how important they are for a show. Clearly their experiences working in T.V. were fodder for the characters and content in the film. This is a funny, insightful track.
“The Making of The TV Set” is an above average electronic press kit. Kasdan started off in T.V. making pilot episodes for shows that never got picked up. Duchovny relished the opportunity to play a writer whose vision is gradually compromised over the course of the film. Weaver’s role was originally written for a man but they decided to keep the dialogue the same and instead cast a woman.
Finally, there is one deleted scene that spoofs the popularity of lawyer and medical dramas – the main competition for Mike’s new show.