A 1987 comedy-drama written, directed, and produced by James L. Brooks, Broadcast News tells the tale of three TV newspeople, working at the Washington, D.C. bureau of an unnamed network, who get tangled in a Love Triangle.
At one vertex, producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) leads her life in chronic emotional meltdown because of her obsessive-compulsive character. She's sexually attracted to but professionally repulsed by Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a simple reporter who landed his job solely on good looks and charisma. He only survives on live TV because Jane feeds him everything he needs to say through an earpiece. Meanwhile, the brilliant Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) dreams of reporting evening news but his un-telegenic looks hold him back both from his ambitions and his crush on Jane.
All three share a slavish devotion to their work; even Tom, ever aware of his low intelligence, wishes to someday cover a story without Jane's help. As Roger Ebert describes: "After Hunter whispers into Hurt's earpiece to talk him through a crucial live report on a Middle East crisis, he kneels at her feet and says it was like sex, having her voice inside his head. He never gets that excited about sex. Neither does she." Indeed, it's only because their romance gets tied up in the workplace's questions of journalistic standards and integrity that Jane, Tom, and Aaron's Love Triangle gets tenser and tenser, as this character knot unravels while frequently shifting from comedy to drama.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Lampshaded by Aaron when Tom starts alliterating.Aaron: (half-drunk) A lot of alliteration from anxious anchors placed in powerful posts!
- Alliterative Name: Aaron Altman.
- An Aesop: The film is a searing indictment of declining news reporting standards. Over 30 years later, it looks more prescient than ever.(on faking tears for a news item)
Jane: You can get fired for things like that.
Tom: I've been promoted for things like that.
Aaron: (on the mass firing at the news studio) This is one story they are not gonna cover. Of course, the network doesn't cover it then it must not be important. So, why worry?
- Ambiguously Jewish: Aaron.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Played with.Aaron: If things had gone differently for me tonight then I probably wouldn't be saying any of this. I grant you everything. But give me this: he personifies everything that you've been fighting against. And I'm in love with you. (Beat) How do you like that? I buried the lead.
- Armor-Piercing Question:Aaron: Jane, you know how Tom had tears in the date rape piece the other night? Ask yourself how we were able to see them when he only had one camera and that was pointing at the girl during the interview. (Beat) I'm fairly sure I was right to tell you.
- Better than Sex: According to Ebert, as seen above, it could be that Jane and Tom's newscasting was better than sex for them.
- Bittersweet Ending: The three lead characters seem to have achieved professional and personal equilibrium, but while Aaron is married, Tom is engaged, and Jane is in a serious relationship, none of them are involved with each other.
- Book Dumb: As a child, Tom is self-conscious about getting Cs and Ds at school despite working hard; when he grows up, though he's not as dumb as the other characters imply, he still needs to have his hand held to navigate some of the more intellectually challenging aspects of network news (one reason why Jane is so concerned about ensuring that his earpiece works during the special report on a Libyan attack on a US military base in Sicily).
- Book Ends: The film begins with vignettes of the three main characters in childhood, and ends with them seven years after the events of the movie (although they do not look appreciably aged in that scene).
- Brief Accent Imitation: While watching Arnold Schwarzenegger on television, Aaron starts quoting him while on the phone with Jane, and imitates Arnold's accent as well.
- The Cameo:
- Cluster F-Bomb: A mercenary who does not want to be interviewed by Aaron unleashes a string of f-bombs, followed by:Mercenary: You going to use that?.Aaron: It depends on how slow a news day it is.
- Date Rape: One of the centerpiece stories is Tom's report on date rape. He interviews a woman who shares her experience, and – at least on camera – is so moved that he begins to cry. Aaron points out to Jane it would have been impossible for the reaction to be genuine if Tom had only one camera.
- Deadpan Snarker: Aaron, in spades.Aaron: Can you believe it? I just risked my life for a network that tests my face with focus groups. (Beat) I don't feel good.
- Did Not Get the Girl: No one in the movie winds up with anyone. Seven years later and Jane is in a serious relationship with someone else, Aaron is married to someone else, and Tom is engaged to someone else. And yet it doesn't seem like it was intended to be depressing, chiefly because it's a bad idea to get into a relationship with a co-worker.
- Distant Finale: The last scene is set seven years after the end of the narrative.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Aaron.
- Dumbass Has a Point: "Dumb" may be too strong of a word, as Tom's lack of intelligence is more of an Informed Attribute than anything else, but he is absolutely correct in many of the tips he gives Aaron. Aaron's disastrous weekend anchor broadcast shows that anchoring the news desk is a skill, just like any other.
- During the Sandinista piece, Jane is upset at the idea that they might be staging a soldier putting on his boots (which the soldier thinks is ridiculous since it was half on anyway.) It foreshadows Jane's reaction to Tom staging his tears for the interview.
- Tom is criticized by the others for making himself a part of the news. And yet they fawn over Bill Rorish giving their work even the slightest bit of attention. This shows how Tom is a bit more on the ball in regards to what people are looking for from a news anchor especially since he takes over from Bill seven years later when he retires.
- Green-Eyed Monster: It's fairly apparent Aaron is jealous of everything Tom possesses.
- Hand-or-Object Underwear: Jennifer Mack uses an oversize pillow as this after having sex with Tom.
- Hypocrite: All three leads to a variety of degrees.
- Tom's is the most obvious, as he stages a reaction shot for his interview on date rape, showing that for all his pretense of wanting to get better, he's still willing to sensationalize the news for his own benefit.
- Jane argues for the integrity of the news and being honest with the subject, even objecting at one point to getting a solider to put on his shoes because she feels it would feel staged, and feels that the importance on news anchors is a detriment to their profession. However, she has no issue with sensationalizing news pieces for a better impact (such as using an image of a Norman Rockwell painting to contrast with a soldier returning home) and fawns over the attention that news anchor Bill Rorish gives to her piece. The key example of her hypocrisy is that while she criticizes Tom for just being shallow and vapid, she's never more alive than when she is barking orders into his ear during the broadcast about the Libyan fighter pilot, and he is merely repeating what she said to him.
- Aaron laments over how people like Tom are ruining the news, even declaring him the devil at one point. However, it's made painfully obvious he is jealous of the attention Tom is getting over himself, as he feels that he is "owed" what Tom is given. And despite his dislike of Tom's skills, he still goes to him when he needs help in preparing for the weekend anchor job. Even after Aaron's disastrous performance as the weekend anchor, he's still critical of Tom despite it being shown that what Tom does isn't as easy as it looks.
- Hypocritical Humor: When Aaron drops in on Jane as she's preparing for the correspondents' dinner she's attending with Tom.Aaron: Could you at least pretend that this is an awkward situation for you? Me showing up while you're getting ready for this date?Jane: (scoffs) It's not a date! It's coworkers going to a professional conclave! (takes a box of condoms out of a paper bag and slips it into her purse)
- Immediate Self-Contradiction: Young Jane obsessively berates her father for calling her "obsessive".
- Informed Attractiveness: Tom's incredibly great looks compared to Aaron's frumpiness is a major aspect of the movie, but William Hurt, though a reasonably good-looking guy, really isn't (and wasn't then) the Adonis he's portrayed as. Compare him to anchormen from the past and present, however.
- Informed Attribute: Much is made about how much smarter Aaron and Jane are to someone like Tom, and how they have a better grasp on what is required to be a proper newscaster. However, Tom never comes off as dumb as they want to make him seem, and is actually quite acute regarding the best way to present oneself on the news (which as Aaron's terrible weekend broadcast shows, is not something just anyone can do; it's something you need both skill and practice to do, especially to do well). Tom also understands the importance of date rape, as his story manages to effectively touch a lot of people even though he does stage a reaction shot for the piece.
- Insufferable Genius:
- In his introductory scene, we see that Aaron has always been smug about his intellect, judging from the "Screw This, I'm Outta Here" tone to his high school graduation speech and the fact that his idea of a stinging putdown to the bullies who made his life hell is that they'll never make more than $19,000 per year or have an original thought.
- Jane; she is aware of her pushiness, however. (Well, mostly, anyway; it could be her way of acknowledging she has an ego problem.)
- Insult Backfire:
- When the almost-15-year-old Aaron is beaten bloody by the members of his graduating class whom he has lambasted in his valedictorian speech, his idea of an insult is that they'll never make more than $19,000note in a year. "Not bad!" one of the bullies scoffs as he walks away.
- Paul snarks to Jane that it must be nice to believe she's always the smartest person in the room. Jane, missing the sarcasm, says, "No, it's awful."
- I Resemble That Remark!: Subverted.Tom: I'm going to miss you... you're a prick in a good way... I'm sorry.Aaron: No, I liked how that made me sound.
- Tom, especially on multiple viewings.
- Aaron too, more often than not. His response to Tom doing a report on date rape is to make a snarky comment about how Tom had "blown the lid off nookie".Tom: You're a prick in a good way... (Beat) I'm sorry.Aaron: No, I liked how that made me sound.
- Jane sends a romantic rival off to Alaska so she can get closer to Tom.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Aaron may think Tom is a dunce, but Tom knows how to look good on camera.Aaron: (after Tom forces him to sit on his suit's coattails to make him look sharp) Fantastic tip!
- Karma Houdini: Even after the other main characters discover it, Tom never suffers any negative consequences from manipulating a rape victim and orchestrating a piece to get himself promoted. Even Aaron and Jane are resigned to the ethics of news broadcasting.Aaron's Son: (when asked if he recognizes Tom) The Big Joke?
- Love Triangle: Between Jane, Tom, and Aaron.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The first scenes show the three major characters as children, displaying the characteristics that make them destined to go into network news: dim-wittedness offset by good looks for future anchorman Tom, intelligence and ego for future reporter Aaron, and obsessive attention to detail for future producer Jane.Young Tom: What can you do with yourself if all you do is look good?Caption: Future Network Anchorman
- Older and Wiser: Tom can't manage tears for the mass firing at the news station, because he's experienced it at every news station he's worked for.
- Once Done, Never Forgotten: Why Rorish has a grudge against Aaron:Aaron: One time, I made some stupid remark about his hairline. He'll never forget it!Tom: Ha!
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: A Running Gag in the movie is whenever Jane takes a cab anywhere, she not only tells the driver her destination, but also gives exact instructions on the best way to get there. Near the end, after Jane finds out Tom pretended to cry in his interview with the date rape victim, which causes her to break up with Tom at the airport instead of going away with him on a vacation as planned, in the cab ride afterwards, she tells the cab driver her destination (Dupont Circle), but she's so upset that after starting to give the driver directions, she just says, "Go whatever way you want." It's then inverted, however, when after a long pause, she does add, "But New York Avenue's faster".
- Passed-Over Promotion: During the Libyan emergency, Jane pushes Aaron to anchor the special report, saying he's actually interviewed Muammar Gaddafi. Paul picks Tom, even though Jane thinks he's "not nearly ready". Paul turns out to be right on Tom, and hilariously right on Aaron not being ready to anchor as later events prove.
- Pull the Thread: Used by Aaron to get Tom to admit he doesn't know the members of the presidential cabinet.
- Rank Up: When the news station has a mass firing, Paul tells Tom he's being shipped out to London. Tom thinks he's been Reassigned to Antarctica. Genre Savvy Aaron knows better.Aaron: (shocked) London?
Tom: (morose) Yeah.
Aaron: That's a promotion!
Tom: I don't think so.
Aaron: Yes, that's where they had Rorish, for God's sake, before they made him anchor. I can't believe you! They're grooming you for it all and you don't even know it!
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Alaska, in the dead of winter, in this case, as Jane ships Jennifer off there to cover a Serial Killer to get her away from Tom.
- Running Away to Cry: An extreme example: Jane's only way of dealing with the stress of her career and the softer emotions that are verboten in that work is to schedule alone time to cry on a daily basis.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Tom advances in TV news on his looks despite never going to college and not knowing current events. Jennifer Mack appears to be an example of this as well.
- Shown Their Work: Writer/director James L. Brooks began his career working for CBS News; he did additional field research during the 1984 U.S. Presidential campaign, and in an interview with The Atlantic admitted he modeled Jane partially on CBS producer Susan Zirinsky. It's still one of the most true-to-life portrayals of life in the TV news industry.
- Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Jack Nicholson. Unlike most examples of the trope, Nicholson himself insisted he not be billed; his name only appears in the end credits.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Subverted. Tom knows he's coasting on his appearance. He still knows all of the tricks that Aaron doesn't know.
- Smug Snake: Bill Rorish.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Tom in a rare male example. As a child he resents being hit on by the waitresses in a restaurant.Young Tom: I don't even know what they mean - "Beat them off with a stick"?
- Squick: Jane's reaction to Tom's idea for a date rape expose is "Ew."
- Strawman News Media: The vapidity and shallowness of TV news is highlighted.
- Suddenly Shouting:Jane: (to Tom on earpiece) To State for the message from Libya, then you'll have the carrier pilot from the Sidra in time to... (shouting, jolting Tom) WHAT?! NO! You missed them! We only have ten minutes left — how can you talk to me about parking problems? No, not you'll try...you'll do it — do it or I'll fry your fat ass, Estelle! GOOD-BYE!
Paul: (aside to Ernie) I had no idea she was this good!
- Take That!: The film's general opinion of the state of network news is exemplified by Aaron telling Tom that the local Portland television station wants to have the same production values as network; he thinks they should aim higher.
- Troll: Aaron enjoys being one, such as asking Tom trick questions.Tom: You're enjoying yourself, aren't you.Aaron: I'm starting to, yeah.
- Truth in Television: Literally so, in this case. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, Brooks worked at CBS News in the 1960s, and then observed the 1984 political conventions as a guest journalist — where he met the woman who became the model for Jane.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Tom pretended to cry just so that they could film his reaction and be praised for his emotional interview with a rape victim.Jane: It made me... ILL.