Cinerama: Switching Channels

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Switching Channels
By Mike Derderian

How do you run a story? No, you don’t give it a pair of running sneakers and a jumpsuit and take it to a racetrack. You simply publish it in a dignified newspaper. What is a story? Where did the story take place? When did the story
happen? Who did it?

What, where, when and who are the four questions a journalist is asked to find answers to. Once the sly and resourceful journalist gets the above questions answered perfectly and collects enough information to ink out a readable and informative piece.

However, if you hate reading newspapers and prefer switching through television channels to hear the news, good or bad they were, then welcome to the TV fan club. I myself restrict my remote control switching workout to three movie channels because I hate listening to the news. This is why I haven’t developed finger muscles, thumb biceps and palm six-packs.

Some claim that switching channels and spending time in front of the television is a waste of time, whereas, they fail to realize that it is a useful sight and sound montage of accumulative education. If you hear it and see it on television you will never forget it as in the case of movies like Ted Kotcheff’s 1988 newsroom comedy Switching Channels. You’ll just love it.

This 105-minute goofball-of-a-movie stars Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Ken James, Charles Kimbrough, Fiona Reid and Henry Gibson. It is about the wacky world of television news and how TV
reporters go all the way to get a story and at any cost.

Switching Channels is the story of an unscrupulous would-do-anything-to-get-the-story television news director, John L. Sullivan IV (Reynolds), who is trying to keep his best anchorwoman Christy Colleran (Turner), who also happens to be his embittered ex-wife, from leaving his SNN news network.

In order to stop her from leaving and marrying a handsome and rich sports equipment tycoon, Blaine Bingham (Reeves), whom she met during her therapeutic vacation, Sullivan throws the old journalism bait: Covering the story of the hour.

Sullivan cunningly plays on Christy’s passionate and dogged reporter spirit and strikes a nerve when he tells her that only she can save Ike Roscoe (Gibson), a convict unjustly sentenced to death after killing a drug dealer, who caused the death of his only son by selling him drugs, from the electric chair.

For Rosco’s bad luck the drug dealer turned out to be a crooked cop. The golden role in Hollywood cop movies—as usual—you can walk away with murder of the first degree but if you dare and shot a cop the whole department will be after you, literally.

Reynolds, who can step into a movie set and cause a laugh by simply walking his renowned indifferent slouchy stride, was brilliant as the egotistical news executive. His portrayal of Sullivan as a Machiavellian character with a knack
for wicked humor and malice-free manner added a very forceful element to the movie’s simplistic storyline and audience draw factor.

Turner on the other hand was the life engine of the entire movie and without her Reynolds’ brilliant performance would have withered into nothingness. The feistiness of her screen character that has become a moniker to many of her screen personas is apparent in memorable movies like The Man with Two Brains (1983), Romancing the Stone (1984), The Jewel of the Nile (1985) and War of the Roses (1989).

Nevertheless Turner is also renowned for her ice queen on-screen presence as we have seen in the murder-intrigue Body Heat (1981) and the light hearted animation verse live action Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), as the ultra
curvaceous Jessica Rabbit.

What shocked me most about this movie was watching how Christopher Reeve’s character Blaine Bingham, a statuesque and athletic person, shrivels and panics as he boards a see-through elevator thanks to a diabolical misfired scheme by Sullivan.

“Oh, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy!” shouts Bingham before he hits the stop button in the elevator with his foot. This is probably one of the funniest scenes in the film in addition to Rosco’s getaway scene and hiding in a Xerox machine after being forced by Christie into it. It is not a Xerox, it’s better, according to Mordsini (Joel Silver), the curator of the machine and who charges 25 cents per copy.

The villain in this movie is non-other than Ned Beatty, who costarred along with Reynolds in the 1972 redneck horror Deliverance. His character Roy Ridnitz the public prosecutor, who is running for the governor’s office and the only way he can win over his nitwit opponent governor (Charles Kimbrough), is to fry Rosco.

This crazy movie that starts on a slow pace right through the middle of the action and sprints towards a funny finale is certainly a collector’s hot item—imagine that you are a reporter sitting in Honolulu or Hawaii on your honeymoon, enjoying a tropical drink, when suddenly a volcano erupts, will you cover it or simply give a Burt Reynolds laugh!

Must-see-scenes: When Pamela Farbrother, Rosco’s lawyer and lover jumps from a window in the no-I-won’t-let-you-do-this-to-him scene; Rosco’s hideout in the Xerox when Sullivan and Christie decide to help him escape the press room swarming with a trigger happy SWAT team; the execution of the Xerox machine in the elevator and any scene involving Burt Reynolds.

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