Jake Kasdan worked on Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, two of my favorite shows in the history of television that didn't make it a full season on the air. Kasdan seems to have taken the worst elements of his experiences in television and placed them in the character of Mike Klein, a writer trying to get his pilot greenlighted by the network and still keep some artistic credibility. The film is basically a series of all the inane notes and dumbing-down network television does in the name of better ratings. There is a lot of satire that's dead on here, beginning with Sigourney Weaver's performance as the network president. Weaver's performance becomes the centerpiece of the film, due to her at times hilarious and at time horrifying performance. She's meant to be a representation of the industry itself, with it's penchant for "broad" shows that aren't too original, too original scares them a little. Kasdan does a good job of showing the inane nature of the industry as well as the struggle between artistic credibility and popular appeal. Mike has everything go wrong that possibly could: he has to change his vision of the show, he has the wrong actor in the lead, and once the show does get picked up, the marketing of it is taken in a completely different direction. Duchovny plays it all with a perma-wince across his face, half flummoxed and outraged at the network dissection of his show. It does play as solid satire and is funny to anyone who has the same view of network television as Kasdan, which I do.
My only real issue with the film is that everyone knows television has little to no artistic credibility. This is the way things work in television and it is such an easy target to skewer. A difference has to be made here between network t.v. and cable; even Mike says his show isn't going to be The Sopranos, which states there is a distinction being made. Granted, I'm no fan of network t.v. and I enjoyed the film throughout but the film does come across as a hopeless exercise. Kasdan knows the networks are never going to change so he can take all the shots at them he wants. In its best moments (the network testing at the mall, the Slut Wars scene at end), the film does its best when it attacks the stupidity of the general public for allowing the networks to get away with what they put on the air. The bad thing is there are too few of those moments to make it a fantastic film instead of just a good one.