The long-promised sequel to “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”, the 2004 comedy hit that can be credited with ensuring that the youth of America recognize that Scotch and leather-bound books are symbols of refinement, is finally set to hit theaters on December 20th. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” will expand out the universe of the Will Ferrell-starring film, moving San Diego’s own Channel 4 News team to New York City, where the gang will help launch a groundbreaking 24-hour news channel. It’s appropriate subject matter for the film, as the advent of such nonstop news networks was the biggest advancement in news-delivery back in the eighties (when the film will be set), and the first film similarly tackled the major format change of the seventies – female anchors sitting alongside men.
That’s why the news that the inaugural “Anchorman” exhibit at the soon-to-be-opened Newseum in Washington, D.C. will feature an emphasis on the rise of female anchors, right alongside an eight-foot-fall display of Ron, a bottle of Sex Panther cologne, and a stuffed version of his beloved pup Baxter, feels a little off-kilter. A new press release about the Newseum, which is set to open on November 14, shares the news that exhibit will feature far more than just goofy props from “Anchorman,” but that it will also “explore the reality behind the film’s humor. Local TV news promotional ads from the 1970s will be on display along with photos of popular news teams of the day. Before today’s 24/7 news cycle, local TV anchors ruled the airwaves, and the anchor chair was for men only. But dramatic changes hit local TV news in the 1970s when women stepped up to the anchor desk, and news teams took over.”
While “Anchorman” is fondly remembered for portraying the instant classic comedic stylings of Ferrell’s idiotically charming Ron Burgundy and his merry band of news lackeys, the meat of the film’s actual plot revolves around the introduction of Channel 4’s first female anchor – the very talented and very experienced Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). Veronica’s employment at Channel 4 doesn’t go well initially – if you remember that trademark screaming scene, culminating with Steve Carell’s challenged Brick Tamland screaming, “I don’t know what we’re yelling about!,” you know just how badly this all went over, but the team has to accept it, because she’s there now and that’s progress, goddammit.
Except they don’t do so well when it comes to actually accepting it. It’s obvious from the start of the film that the sexes are going to clash mightily when it comes to who gets to read the news, with Bill Kurtis’ narration introducing us to the action by placing Burgundy within the context of dude-delivered news. The opening lines of “Anchorman” tell us: “There was a time, a time before cable. When the local anchorman reigned supreme. When people believed everything they heard on TV. This was an age when only men were allowed to read the news. And in San Diego, one anchorman was more man then the rest. His name was Ron Burgundy. He was like a god walking amongst mere mortals. He had a voice that could make a wolverine purr and suits so fine they made Sinatra look like a hobo. In other words, Ron Burgundy was the balls.”
For all its puffed-up male chauvinism, “Anchorman” does end with the men of the Channel 4 News team accepting Veronica as one of their own – and Applegate will still be part of the team in the second film (she will also now be Ron’s wife). However, her eventually professional acceptance happens only after Ron bottoms out and Veronica proves to be superior at their job in every way (including when it comes to Teleprompter tricks). She also get shoved into a bear pen at the local zoo during the much-anticipated panda birth and has to be saved by both Ron and his dog, but sure, she’s accepted. It also doesn’t hurt that ol’ Burgundy falls in love with his lovely lady anchor, an emotional complication that helps change his mind that women can read the news, too – or at least pretty women he loves.
“Anchorman” is certainly a splashy title to use to address such historical issues, but the over-the-top comedy doesn’t seem like the best fit to help frame an educational exhibit on the evolution of televised news. What about “Network” or “Up Close and Personal” (which was based on the life of pioneering female anchor Jessica Savitch) or even, on the television side, the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”? Well, they don’t have sequels coming out or major comedic stars to help sell them, that’s why.
For all the exaggerated situations of the film, Ferrell and director Adam McKay do seem cognizant of the clash between the big laughs on screen and the major cultural shift their films portray, with Ferrell commenting, “The whole era marked the clash of male chauvinism and feminism. It was a time when both issues came to a head, which really served our story. The point was just to have fun while getting to comment on a few things.” McKay gets a bit more to the point, saying, “Let’s just say it was a time of pre-social consciousness.” Hopefully Ferrell and McKay’s comments are indicative of an exhibit willing to dig deep into news-reading history, not just one intent on publicizing a pair of films that don’t necessarily need that extra push.
The Newseum! Come for the mustache brushes and jazz flutes, stay for the trenchant social commentary.