It's true that it no longer is the case that you need to be someone special in order to be famous; being famous in and of itself makes you special. It's also true that it has become easier and easier to acquire fame in this information age that we're living in: witness talk shows like Jerry Springer's or web cameras like JennyCam or GabCam. Director Ron Howard's latest effort, Edtv, tries to illustrates this to us, along with the message that there is a price associated with the fame.
Cynthia Topping (Ellen Degeneres) is a broadcast director for True-TV, a San Francisco-based TV station, who, on the verge of having a chalk outline drawn around her career, comes up with an idea to have a show where a "normal" person is filmed round-the-clock. The person she chooses is Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey), a thirty-one year old typical (?) Texas video-store clerk without a future. Tempted by the money and the fame, and egged on by his brother Ray (Woody Harrelson), Ed agrees to do the show and gets more than he bargained for.
At first, the show is fairly mundane. But as a soap opera scenario develops when Ray's girlfriend Shari (Jenna Elfman) leaves him for Ed, audiences across the country become enraptured. However, the pressure of being followed around by a TV camera is too much for Shari and as a result their romance is strained. When Ed realises the price that comes with fame is too high to pay, he decides to back off. However, station owner Whitaker (Rob Reiner) has other plans.
Comparisons between this film and The Truman Show are inevitable. While I think The Truman Show is a better film, Edtv is more realistic. In the former, the movie was about its main character, Truman Burbank, who lived his life without knowing he was being watched by millions. Ed, however, is fully cogent of the fact that there is a camera right in front of his face, and there are no "high tech" gadgets employed to make any of his life a simulacrum. In some ways, it's a lot like MTV's The Real World or Road Rules without the editing. And in other ways, it's like a talk show crossed with a web camera.
Edtv is peppered with a strong cast. McConaughey, Harrelson, Elfman, Degeneres, and Martin Landau as Ed's step-father, all give solid performances. The movie itself is filmed well, though given the small number of cameras it is a little too convenient how certain scenes and angles are depicted. The writing is extremely humourous and ups the quality of the movie a few notches. Some interesting touches include the upgrade of commercials at the bottom of the screen as the show becomes more popular, and commentary about the TV show (on TV, in the film) by the likes of Bill Maher, Jay Leno, and RuPaul (who has some great one liners).
Edtv, more so than The Truman Show, focuses on the audience and their tendency to become addicted watching someone's life unravel as it happens. I think this is the same sort of appeal talk shows have today, and even though I feel like watching them sometimes, I don't think much of them and tend to avoid them. I think they could be used positively but they're not. For example, even talk shows involving teenage drug use or crime are generally geared towards entertaining the audience and getting a perverse kick from watching other people's problems (as Topping mentions, it's like watching a car accident) rather than finding solutions to said problems. Would talk shows, or news in general, be as popular if all they depicted was positive news (or even if they struck an even balance)?
The TV audience in the film is interested in the same thing the movie audience is interested in, at least to a certain degree: we're all interested in how Ed's story will turn out. To us, Ed is a fictional character and we do indeed see a highly edited version of the months of camera following this fictional character's life. To the audience in the movie, they've had no choice but to watch at Ed's pace. The problem with the concept in movies like The Truman Show or Edtv is that if they TV shows are paced so well as they are in the movies themselves, then I can see it being a hit. But for the most part, real-world pacing is incredibly boring. Which is why we go to the movies.
Andy Warhol would've been very satisfied indeed. His prediction about everyone having their fifteen minutes of fame was a given; but the meta-commentary about his prediction probably surpassed anything he imagined.