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Film / EDtv

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EDtv is a 1999 satirical comedy/drama film directed by Ron Howard, starring Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson and Ellen DeGeneres, about a man who finds himself thrust into the world of reality television — and all the benefits and challenges that come from it. It is a Foreign Remake of the Quebecois film Louis 19, le roi des ondes (1994).

Ed Pekurny (McConaughey) is a video store clerk in San Francisco who dreams of being a star. When the television channel True TV commissions a new reality series that will chronicle a person's life from "dawn to midnight", Ed and his brother Ray (Harrelson) jump at the chance to get their names in the spotlight. The staff at True TV, led by broadcast manager Cynthia Tapping (DeGeneres) and station manager Mr. Whitaker (Rob Reiner), intend to show everything that happens in the candidate's life, and choose Ed after seeing him audition.

The resulting show, "EDtv", is launched to poor reviews and public reaction, and is in danger of being cancelled. However, on the third day of broadcasting, Ed (along with his cameraman) discovers that Ray has been cheating on his girlfriend, Shari (Elfman). In a moment of weakness at Her house, Shari insults Ray, and tells Ed she has feelings for him. Ed then kisses her and forces the camera crew out, which leads to the show gaining newfound exposure in the public eye, and making it extremely popular. As Ed becomes a media darling, several of his friends (including Shari) stay away from him for fear of being publicized. The True TV staff also use a number of tricks to increase the show's ratings, including bringing on an actress named Jill (Elizabeth Hurley) to try and seduce Ed on TV, and following Ed's friends and family around in the hopes that they'll do something unexpected. Eventually, Ed must figure out how to break out of the show and try to resume a normal life, free of the cameras and fame.

EDtv was part of a wave of films released in the late 90's that dealt with the concept of "cinematic television" (others include Pleasantville and The Truman Show). Although different to anyone who's seen both, EDtv and Truman were widely compared at their time of release due to their (at the time, almost unique) plots about a guy whose life is turned into a television show. The main difference between the two films was that Ed was an active participant in the show, inviting the camera crew to come with him whenever he would do something, and using his fame to subvert the expectations of both the audience and the producers. EDtv also predicted the reality television boom of the early 2000s by portraying an average person being filmed at set hours of the day (a concept that has been used to great effect in several reality shows, including Big Brother).

This film provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: On the negative implications of media exposure and fame in one's personal and professional life.
  • Anti-Climax: Towards the end of the movie, Ed shows up at Ray's place, prompting Ray to state they need to "settle this". The producers think they are about to fight... but after the two circle each other, Ray states that they're settled.
  • Award-Bait Song: Real Life by Bon Jovi.
  • Broken Base: invoked The only people who wind up being happy that the plug is pulled on the show at the end were the people being filmed.
  • Butt-Monkey: Ed's brother Ray, who not only fails to gain the fame his brother has, but is called a "terrible lay" by Shari on live television (which leads to the show's success). These actions hurt Ray so much that he ends up writing a book to combat the negative press, "How My Brother Pissed On Me".
  • The Cameo: The film is filled with cameos, including major directors (Rob Reiner, Michael Moore) and media personalities (Jay Leno, Bill Maher).
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Ed soon discovers that being famous isn't all it's cracked up to be.
  • Control Freak: The executives at True TV, who capitalize on Ed's success by forcing him into a long-term contract and following his family members around with cameras at all hours of the day in order to bring in new viewers.
  • Executive Meddling: Played straight in-universe with the True TV executives, and subverted with True TV broadcast director Cynthia Topping, who helps Ed during The Plan by leaking the information that eventually gets the show cancelled.
  • Fake Video Camera View: Given how Ed is filmed 16 hours a day, every day, and TVs are a near-constant presence in the narrative, this should be expected.
  • Heroic BSoD: Ed is denied from entering the cemetery where his father is being buried because of the camera crews following him, leaving him despondent and near-inconsolable.
  • Leno Device: Due to the nature of the movie, there are instances where we see people associated with Ed appearing on talk shows, like Ed's brother appearing on Bill Maher's show to talk about his book "My Brother Pissed On Me".
  • Lousy Lovers Are Losers: After Ray cheats on Shari, she gets her revenge on him by telling the entire reality TV audience about what a lousy lay he is, which greatly boosts the show's ratings and utterly humiliates him.
    Shari: He is a bad lay. And I mean bad.
  • Manipulative Bastard: True TV station manager Whitaker, who forces Ed into a long-term contract he can't get out of and starts using camera crews to harass Ed's family and friends for ratings.
  • Manipulative Editing: In-Universe, as the camera crew and network re-edit the footage (along with deliberately staging scenarios made to get a reaction from Ed) to create a more sensational program.
  • Moment Killer: Shari and Ed's first kiss is interrupted by the cameraman filming them, which leads to Ed locking the crew out of his apartment (and unintentionally raising the show's ratings).
  • No Fourth Wall: Ed appears to be talking to the viewer at several points (although this is because he is speaking into a video camera and looking straight at the camera/audience).
  • The Plan: In order to get the program shut down, Ed announces on live television that he will pay $10,000 to the person who gives him the most secretive and damaging information on the producers, knowing full well that they will cancel the program before he can say anything. He gets information from several people, but also gets some unexpected help from Cynthia, who leaks damaging information about Mr. Whitaker out of sympathy for Ed. The show is cancelled before Ed can spill the information.
  • Plot-Inciting Infidelity: Ed's show struggles in the ratings until the cameras catch Ray cheating on his girlfriend. The dramatic fallout, which includes Ed and Shari finally acting on their feelings for each other, hooks the in-universe audience and turns the show into a hit.
  • Product Placement: As Ed's show becomes more popular, the nature of the advertisers on his show change to bigger and bigger sponsors.
  • Ratings Stunt: Exploited at least twice in the movie:
    • Jill tries to pull one by having sex with Ed, but this ultimately results in Ed crushing her cat.
    • In order to get the show cancelled, Ed announces a $10,000 prize for the first person to give him the biggest bit of dirt about the producers... which he will say live on TV. As expected, the plug is pulled right as he's about to say it.
  • Reality Show Genre Blindness: Averted. Ed is the first person to undergo such an experiment, and is eager to get more fame and money. However, he is understandably angry when cameras barge in on him at inopportune moments (such as when he's trying to kiss Shari or trying to sleep).
  • Shout-Out: During a scene where several different groups of viewers are seen watching the show, one group of people are students watching from the "Delta Tau Chi fraternity''.
  • Sibling Triangle: Shari is dating Ed's brother Ray but it's clear from early on that there's a mutual attraction between her and Ed. After Ed and his cameras catch Ray with another woman Ed and Shari start dating. Ray is hurt for a while but eventually makes up with Ed.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To The Truman Show: in the former, the main character has no idea he's a reality TV star, and has to learn his reality is manufactured. Here, Ed willingly becomes a reality TV star, and has his reality laid bare for the entire world to see, removing any sense of privacy for all associated with him.
  • Tempting Fate: Shortly after Mr. Whitaker states his belief Ed's $10,000 stunt to spill dirt will fail, and he will remain on TV until he dies, Ed starts to publicly reveal Mr. Whitaker's penis implant on live TV. Needless to say, he has the plug pulled.
  • Token Wholesome: Shari, who is the "plain Jane" Ed falls for and wants to be with (in spite of temptation at several opportunities).
  • "Truman Show" Plot: Dueling with the Trope Namer.
  • Unbuilt Trope: For reality TV.
  • Wealthy Ever After: Ed becomes modestly wealthy as a result of the show, and gets to retain his money once he gets it canned.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After her ploy to seduce Ed on live television fails, Jill leaves the house and never appears again.
  • Will They or Won't They?: In-universe, the entire reason why EDtv becomes popular is due to Shari and Ed developing feelings for each other, which makes audiences tune in to see what will happen between them.