2006 film by writer-director Jake Kasdan The television starts off happily enough, with TV screenwriter Mike Klein (David Duchovny) having his autobiographical script picked up by a major network. It even has an intense young actor, TJ Goldman (played by bearded Simon Helberg), chosen to play the lead role. When his manager (Judy Greer) suggests that TJ might be “Too Hot for the Room,” Mike snarls, “Too Hot for the Room … what does that mean? Too Jewish? The manager’s prediction comes true, but that’s not all. Little by little, the tragicomic The Chronicles of Wexler is transformed into a large fart-laden sitcom titled Call me crazy starring spiky over-actor Zach Harper (Fran Kranz). What was lost in this series of network notes for the beleaguered author? Everything that made the initial script sensitive, nuanced, and personal, everything that made it recognizable as Jewish.
In many ways, The television is the oldest of the millennium Network (1976). Both scenarios were born out of the imagination of Jewish men (TV setit’s Kasdan, Network‘s Paddy Chayefsky) who seek to poke fun at their television work experiences. Network is the most radical film, mercilessly exposing the interconnections of politics, violence and the television news cycle. The world of TV set is a gentler alternative, mostly populated by blithely incompetent morons; it belongs to the cringe comedy library, alongside a show like Office (WE), which started a year earlier.
But as Network, The television is an artefact of its moment. Television historian Amanda Lotz calls the years between 1980 and 2000 the “multichannel transition,” sandwiched between the heyday of CBS, ABC and NBC called the era of the network and our current post-network era. . In those 20 years, the Big Three have struggled with the advent of Fox, The WB, and UPN, not to mention basic cable networks like MTV, Nickelodeon, Lifetime, and Comedy Central. Network executives simply asked, frantically, how they could compete. An answer, according to The television, was gobbling up money on reality shows like (the fictional show-in-a-show) bitch wars. Meanwhile, mid-size TV showrunners like Mike Klein idealize a gritty Hollywood past, exemplified by 1970s films like Taxi driver, Serpico, well, Network– and aspire to take risks in their own creative endeavors. Unfortunately for Mike, his boss, the general manager of Panda Network, offers these words of warning: “The original scares me. “
Corn The television go a place that Network does not, Kasdan’s script exploring how Hollywood suffers from a lingering case of internalized anti-Semitism. Network television has always struggled to achieve an imaginary ideal of notoo much-Judeness with vaudéo stars like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and Jack Benny — obviously Jewish (for Jews) but still assimilated to middle-class white America. Meanwhile, the very Jewish Molly Goldberg in CBS’s The Goldbergs (CBS, 1949–1956) left New York in its final season to settle in the suburbs, the series title having been tactfully changed to Molly.
That is, for every Ross Gellar (the real Jew David Schwimmer), there is a Monica (I love you, Courteney, but no one buys it). The success of Seinfeld came as a shock to television executives who thought it was “Too New Yorker, too Jewish” to find a mainstream audience and, if Fran Drescher had yielded to pressure from the network, the The Nanny’s spectacularly Jewish leader was said to have been Italian. While the pinnacle of network television prestige has long passed, these questions of Jewish performance and assimilation policy remain just as vital. years later.
Because The television is about the laundering of ethnic identity and Jewishness, the outlines of this conversation can be difficult to see. Like many comedies set in the entertainment world, Kasdan’s film is concerned with how Kosher Beef Sausage is made and how a writer’s vision can get lost in a flurry of suggestions and reimaginations imposed by leaders. The intro of the film explains, with a graphic sequence evoking the credits of The morning show, that a small percentage of produced pilots are “relieved”, which means that “the others never see the light of day”. Mike Klein could technically be the creator of Call me crazy, corn The Chronicles of Wexler ends up in the promising entertainment garbage heap, so niche.
With that in mind, I want to look at the version of The television that was never made and the future that he couldn’t help but predict.
Mike Klein’s nemesis in the film, Lenny, is played by Sigourney Weaver, who happily illustrates him as an older, slightly cuddly version of Faye Dunaway’s cut-throat frame in Network. Every show gives the green light for Lenny to pass with his teenage daughter; his near-death experience inspires him to move on Following time at work, tools with the prime-time program; she keeps talking about the blockbuster potential of giving Lucy Lawless her own comedic vehicle. She might be right about that last point, but nonetheless, Lenny fears and his hatred of the title The Chronicles of Wexler, as well as his aversion to anything “artistic,” “smart,” or “the blue state,” coded, perhaps market-driven anti-Semitism.
But what if Lenny had been played by Kasdan’s initial first choice, the clearly Jewish Ben Stiller? Many Hollywood makers, past and present, were Jewish, including Louis B. Mayer of MGM, Harry Cohn of Columbia, Bob Iger of Disney, Barry Diller of Fox, Harvey Weinstein, Scott Rudin, and Amy Pascal. (If this list makes you cringe, you are in good companyEven with these folks at the helm, the Jewish portrayal on screen remains patchy, confused, and stark. So although Weaver puts on a delightfully manic performance, the choice of a Jewish actor in the role would have highlighted an important subtextual thread of The television: that Hollywood is drawn to Jewish artists and stories, but cannot imagine a world in which these stories can be told in their entirety.
This is where the characters of Simon Helberg and Lindsay Sloane come in, Helberg playing the actor who is not chosen, Sloane the actress who does. Their characters and real-life counterparts tell a fascinating, albeit obliquely problematic, story of networked Jewishness today.
Helberg’s TJ is not long for the world of The television. After letting a beard grow under Mike’s advice, he grumbles: “I look like Serpico!” Mike thinks it’s great, but Mike think wrong. (You better believe David Duchovny was clean shaven when he played FBI super agent Fox Mulder on X files.) Mike may be naive about the network’s expectations of what constitutes a good looking man, but TJ, a working actor, is not. He wouldn’t be surprised to hear Lenny’s words, whispered privately among his fellow executives: “You can’t hang a series about a fucking stage actor with bad hair and a beard.” Not in this country.
The following year, Helberg quickly became a name known as Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory (SCS, 2007-2019). Although Howard grew and matured over the 12 seasons of Chuck Lorre’s sitcom juggernaut, his character started out as a stereotypical Jewish nerd – a nimble horndog with a boisterous, arrogant mother. The Big Bang Theory relied on a broad sitcom acting set, timed to laughter in the studio audience, so Helberg did his job and starred in a large Jewish sitcom.
But if exaggerated ethnic caricature is an option, Television sets Laurel Simon, played by Sloane, offers another. A former child actress who has worked regularly on shows such as CBS The strange couple and the United States Play house, Lindsay Sloane may not be immediately recognizable as Jewish, as is her character in The television. When we meet Laurel Simon (note the last name), she admits that she’s worked hard to go from the eccentric best friend type to the sexy lead woman. Lenny likes that she doesn’t “let her warmth get in the way of her cuteness” or vice versa. Laurel is attractive without being intimidating, inexhaustible but also ambitious. All this to say that she may be Jewish, but she is not too much Jewish, a quality preferable among actors but essential for the actress who works. As Laurel flirts with Jonathan Silverman (in an appearance as himself) at the start of the Network, you see an arranged marriage in action of carefully organized and network-friendly Jewish figures in action.
The televisionThe end credits include a wacky clip of tribal member Seth Green hosting bitch wars. “America voted,” Green intends. “Carla… put your clothes on and get out of here.” Seemingly out of the mouths of Kasdan and his co-executive producer, Judd Apatow, this moment crowns their argument with a definitive bird flip. If this is the future of the Jews on network television, oy vey, and also, we are outside.