SURVEY 

Your favourite Films & TV Shows about media

Over the last few weeks, we have been polling “media insiders” about your favourite films, TV shows and books which are about the media business – we have received just under 300 votes.

By Jim Bilton

Your favourite Films & TV Shows about media
Photograph: Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

This week we are revealing the top media films and TV shows. Next week it will be your favourite books. In the third week we shall share your views on who the most influential people in media will be this year.

The Top Five Films

  1. All the President’s Men
  2. Spotlight
  3. The Post
  4. The Devil Wears Prada
  5. His Girl Friday

All the President’s Men (1976) received the most votes by far. It clearly remains the definitive account of what investigative journalism is all about. In the current world of fake news, the misuse of political power and the ability of politicians to manipulate and deceive, the need for independent journalism and the reality of there still being “facts” to find out there, rings true with so many working now in the media business, both editorial and commercial. It also harks back to a “golden age” when management seemed to take big bets and committed real resource to major editorial missions. And of course, every male journalist of a certain age still harbours the secret longing to be Hoffman or Redford.

Some of the comments: “I was a fresh-faced, graduate trainee B2B journalist at the time of the Watergate affair. I and my colleagues delighted in the seemingly everyday release of new facts and speculations. The film seemed to capture both the thrill of the chase and the persistence and sheer hard work involved in unearthing the facts pre-Google.” … “The central issue of the affair - the corruption of US politics - seems, sadly, to remain relevant to this day.” … “It conveyed both the slog and the passion of reporting. The realism of the Washington Post set, the nuances of the acting, and the sense of history all make it memorable.” … “The idea of digging for ‘truth’ rather than creating data-driven ‘content’ is so much more appealing. And noble.”

Another great example of persistent journalism is captured in the No.2 film, Spotlight (2015).

Some of the comments: “The authentic and powerful story of the Boston Globe investigating child sex abuse and the powerful people trying to cover it all up. The Press triumphs over evil.” … “A really great insight into what a really hot newsroom should be like. And which we sadly seem to have lost now.” … “The collaborative efforts of the investigative journalists were raw and insightful. It also showed their honesty and empathy with the victims. We’re all human and not the cynical, amoral hacks we are often presented to be.” … “It shows what kind of impact we can have when we do our job properly. It also shows how hard the work can be, but how it's worth it in the end.”

The Post (2017) is No.3 and is founded on another Washington Post investigation, but it also has the added dimension of the tough personal and business decisions behind the journalists’ mission. A female proprietor hesitantly carving out her own role in a male-dominated world clearly resonated with many Media Insiders.

Some of the comments: “A big story, told with concision, drama, pathos and plenty of media-insider references.” … “Perfectly captures a time, place and 'the way things were' – or as we imagined them to be!” … “An inspirational film about an independently-minded newspaper where sheer guts, journalistic integrity and a management who came on board to take the risk – all came together to see them stand up to powerful vested interests.” … “Sometimes Management are not the enemy of the Journalists. Sometimes!”

The No.4 slot is taken by a film about the very different world of magazines – The Devil wears Prada (2006).

Some of the comments: “It may be a sad reflection on my own shallowness, but it captures that mix of the glamour, the waspishness and creativity that is - or was - the world of lifestyle magazine publishing. I always wanted to be a part of that world. And I still do…. I’m still a little starstruck by the whole media business, even though I’m part of it now.”

Back to a whacky classic with the No.5 choice, His Girl Friday (1940).

Some of the comments: “A comic look at the stinking underbelly of tabloid journalism, with a good dose of feisty feminism thrown in.” … “Fantastic performances from all the cast. Almost as good as The Front Page” … “Classic Hollywood screwball comedy with Cary Grant, and the media setting is the icing on the cake. A time when working in journalism was shorthand for glamour! LoL.”

The Best of the Rest

At the head of The Best of the Rest is Citizen Kane (1941). It is still the definitive statement of what an old-style media mogul should look like and a technical tour de force (it is a real film-maker’s film), but it seems a bit dated now. Many of our younger Media Insider voters had heard of it, but very few have actually seen it.

In alphabetical order:

  • A Private War (2018): “A very personal and powerful portrayal of Marie Colvin – someone I knew and admired, but who scared me a little if I’m honest.”
  • Bombshell (2019): “Great performances and an excellent insight into how media and politics combine. And of course, with sexual harassment at work being at the core. Very topical.”
  • Broadcast News (1987): “Simply the most brilliant portrayal of TV news - including the arrogance of anchors and the power of producers and executives.”
  • Defence of the Realm (1985): “A very British take on politics, spies and the media – what a combo!”
  • How to Build a Girl (2019): “This is EMAP in the 1990s and what it was like working at a music mag (hedonistic, male-dominated, the power of print, sex, drugs etc). We could never do it now, but it just seemed normal then.”
  • Network (1976): “The frustration and fascination we all have with news – fast-moving, ever changing and driven by the ratings. Thankfully, all driven by algorithms now (not!)”
  • Salvador (1986): “A burnt-out journalist who finds a new life and a sense purpose by becoming part of the story he’s covering. A bit too close to home!”
  • Someone Great (2019): “Young, fun and set in an urban, neon, modern-day setting.”
  • The Front Page (1974): “Funny, yet the attitudes portrayed are spot on. Period timepiece and two masters on top form.”
  • The Great Hack (2019): “Really scary, demonstrating the real power of data.”
  • The Shipping News (2001): “Atmospheric, compassionate, soulful film about a Newfoundland community and role of the local newspaper in holding it together.”
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): “When a media mogul becomes a power-crazed madman intent on world domination in a Bond movie, you know you’re working in the right business!”
  • Zodiac (2007): “The commitment of the central protagonist during his investigation is admirable, and the movie is gripping. This beats Broadcast News by a decent margin.”

The Top Five TV Shows

  1. Drop the Dead Donkey
  2. Succession
  3. Press
  4. The Bold Type
  5. Lou Grant

Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-1998) won the No.1 slot by a surprisingly large margin despite its age.

Some of the comments: “A biting satire on life in a TV News station and the struggle to balance factual reporting with sensationalism whilst taking care not to include anything that might upset the media-mogul owner. Still relevant!” … “Showing my age, but nothing since has been as accurate about the chaos of a TV newsroom than this show! Allegedly the creators wanted to create a show about office politics and settled on a newsroom as being the most extreme place for office politics!” … “It shows that TV news people are sometimes just as feckless and clueless as everyone else.”

Although in the No.2 slot, Succession (2018 to date) dominates the current, live output in the poll.

Some of the comments: “Relentlessly funny and, of course, there's much malicious joy in seeing how close it steers to the Murdoch family without straying into libel court territory. Such a clever near-reality series.” … “Hilarious and doesn't shy away from showing how badly people in power can behave.” … “Incredibly well observed and really accurately depicts how some people see the world.”

Whilst placed No.3 in the poll, Press (2018) never won a second series. It clearly appealed more to our Media Insiders than to the general public.

Some of the comments: “A bit stereotypical at times, but we’ve all met people like these characters, at some point in our careers.” … “Very near the mark on occasions.” … “Quite gritty and in your face.”

The glamour of magazines takes the No.4 slot with The Bold Type (2017 to date).

Some of the comments: “Contemporary themes that just reflect societal norms now with a big dose of mag glam on top.” … “It provides an accurate view of what a typical day can consist of and the characters own the genuineness of their portrayed role in the series.” … “The women who are the stars of the show are both relatable and inspirational.”

And coming in from left field at No.5 is Lou Grant (1977 to 1982), itself a spin-off from a series on the Best of the Rest list – the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This is clearly more popular amongst our older pollsters, many of whom hark back to the 1970s, but its supporters feel that it has stood the test of time.

Some of the comments: “A very underrated series, but one that really captured the atmosphere of the newsroom, albeit in a very gentle and American way” … “It just made me laugh. And it still does.”

The Best of the Rest

This is a very eclectic mix of the factual and the fictional and of the gritty and the glossy. The list also has a very wide date range – just shows what sticks in our minds and shapes our views in our formative years. And also demonstrates how the major streaming services are thrashing their back inventory. There is a strong thread of humour and satire running through them all - we don’t take ourselves that seriously after all. And some aspects of media – mainly the personality types – are clearly timeless.

In alphabetical order:

  • Compact (1962 to 1965): “It came from the pair who created Crossroads! But they knew what it was like to work on a magazine.”
  • Hard News (1988 to 1990): “Ray Snoddy at his acerbic best.”
  • Have I Got News For You (1990 to date): “Has stood the test of time. If you find a formula, work it until they drag you off the set!”
  • Hot Metal (1986 to 1988): “The Daily Crucible is the dullest paper on Fleet Street, until a media magnate took it over and pumped some life into it with trashy clickbait. Sounds familiar?”
  • Lytton's Diary (1985 to 1986): “When it was shown again last year, I was surprised as to how good it was. Especially as I wrote it!”
  • Madmen (2007 to 2015): “A portal to the dark side. All that is good and bad about the golden age of advertising.”
  • Selling Hitler (1991): “A one series wonder, telling the story of the Hitler Diary hoax.”
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006 to 2007): “It was fast and funny and tense. It also explored issues ranging from the ethical and legal to the personal and commercial. Very sharp.”
  • The Loudest Voice (2019): “The story behind the truth-bending, ratings-driven Fox News. The story goes on, so there must be a second series brewing.”
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 to 1977): “The first and best series about a woman making it in media. Frank, funny and hugely memorable. A significant factor in my choosing a media career. It also spun off Lou Grant by the way – a good brand extension!”
  • The Morning Show (2019): “Sassy dialogue and some raw moments. All the old characters and issues brought completely up-to-date.”
  • The Thick of It (2005 to 2012): “Armando Iannucci at his prophetic best in describing the dark arts of the political spin doctor. Often copied, but never bettered.”
  • W1A (2014 to 2017): “Brilliant and honest. The BBC should be congratulated for laughing at itself. Pity it’s gone, but a 2020 lockdown special suggests that it might come back. Like many things!”

Look out for the mediaONmedia book list next week.

The mediaONmedia poll is run by Wessenden Marketing and InPublishing. If you have any feedback, please email Jim Bilton.