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The TV Set

Please Be Kind, Rewind

Written and directed by Jake Kasdan (Orange County, The Zero Effect), The TV Set satirizes network television and the inevitable compromises that follow when network executives openly interfere with the creative vision of a writer/producer. Occasionally hilarious but often too obvious in whom it satirizes, The TV Set feels like it should have been made twenty or twenty-five years ago, as it feels like a relic of a bygone time (i.e. pre-cable) when writer/producers could only go to the "big three": ABC, CBS, and NBC, with their creative ideas, which made compromise inevitable (and predictable).

As pilot season gets underway in the spring, Mike Klein (David Duchovny), a writer/producer, hopes to get his series about a young attorney returning home after a long absence, "The Wechsler Chronicles," approved by one of the major networks and its executives, specifically Lenny (Sigourney Weaver) and her number two, Richard McAllister (Ioan Gruffudd), a Brit who's moved from England and the BBC to add "class" to the network's fall lineup.

At home, Klein has to cope with the impending birth of a second child and his wife Natalie's (Justine Bateman) concerns about their financial security if the pilot isn't picked up for the season. On the other hand, Richard’s wife, Chloe McAllister (Lucy Davis), hasn’t adjusted to living in rarefied Hollywood (and barely sees her husband).

Before the pilot can proceed into production, however, actors have to be cast for the lead roles. Klein gets his first choice for the female lead, Laurel Simon (Lindsay Sloane), but is forced to accept Lenny's first choice (and his second), Zach Harper (Fran Kranz), a smug, egotistical, not too bright actor who prefers improvising to reading his lines. Lenny doesn't care much for the title of Klein's series or the death of a secondary character in the pilot episode. For Lenny, it's too far too serious for the weekly series she envisions, a cross between "Northern Exposure" and "Ed". As "The Wechsler Chronicles" moves through production, Klein has to choose between artistic integrity and economic necessity.

Unfortunately, The TV Set is as predictable and unoriginal as the network executives it satirizes. For Klein to see his vision make it to the small screen, he has to overcome everything from miscast actors to interfering network executives and everything in between. Klein’s choice between artistic integrity and economic necessity is never in doubt, leaving The TV Set to sink or swim on whether it works as satire.

Kasdan’s satirical targets, however, are far too obvious. Who believes network executives will put art before commerce? Satire works best when the objects of satire, of ridicule and derision, have something at stake in protecting themselves from that satire. Not so here, not when arrogant, ratings-obsessed network executives have been the objects of satire for several decades (e.g., Wag the Dog, Broadcast News, Network).

It also doesn’t help Kasdan’s cause that the networks are far less powerful than they were thirty or even twenty years ago. Writer/producers with strong creative visions can go to any of one of the basic cable channels (e.g., FX, TBS, SciFi Channel, USA) or premium channels (e.g., HBO, Showtime) with their ideas for a television series. Sure, compromises (usually budget related) will have to be made, but writer/producers have a better chance in today’s market to pursue their creative vision.

Kasdan further damages his case by making “The Wechsler Chronicles” dull and unengaging, making it unlikely that we’ll root for Klein’s vision to emerge unscathed at the end of the film. Sadly, a few spot-on jokes and gags and A-level effort by a seasoned cast are all that The TV Set has going for it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars