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Broadcast News (1987) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • Basket-case network news producer Jane Craig falls for new reporter Tom Grunnick, a pretty boy who represents the trend towards entertainment news she despises. Aaron Altman, a talented but plain correspondent, carries an unrequited torch for Jane. Sparks fly between the three as the network prepares for big changes, and both the news and Jane must decide between style and substance.

  • At the Washington DC bureau of a national network news division, Jane Craig is a news producer who knows that she is always right. Beneath her veneer of self-assuredness, Jane is a bundle of neuroses also knowing that she has troubles convincing people that she is right, those neuroses manifesting themselves in crying to release emotions when she thinks other people are not looking. Aaron Altman is a news reporter, brilliant in his understanding of the stories he covers, but who is generally under-appreciated as the geek. Jane and Aaron are best friends and regularly work together on news pieces. While Jane respects Aaron professionally, Aaron in turn is secretly in love with Jane. Both Aaron but most specifically Jane abhor the trends of news being more entertainment than news, and the focus of style over substance. Into the bureau enters Tom Grunick, who is hired as the new news anchor. Tom has had a meteoric rise in the business starting in sports, getting a job as a sports anchor before moving onto a news desk as anchor. Tom realizes that he has no business being in "news", with the issues of general news, and especially political news in Washington, not coming naturally to him. He also realizes that his strengths are as a salesman, specifically of himself, largely because of his good looks and his good communication skills, and by association anything of which he speaks. Tom admires Jane in every respect and wants her to be his mentor in learning the ropes of his job. He, however, epitomizes everything she abhors in news, she believing it his own job to better himself as a news person. Regardless, Jane is attracted to Tom and somewhat hopes that his admiration of her is also a romantic one. If they do allow themselves to enter into a personal relationship, they will have to find if they can overcome Jane's issues of what Tom represents professionally in the business she loves, and if they can relate to each other beyond their work. Also adding some complexity to their situation is Aaron, who sees Tom as competition both professionally and personally for what little personal time Jane has.

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  • Take two rival television reporters: one handsome, one talented, both male. Add one Producer, female. Mix well, and watch the sparks fly.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In Washington, D.C. of the year 1981, Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is a successful television news producer at a national network. During a conference for local broadcasters, Jane gives an impassioned but poorly received keynote address, urging her colleagues not to lose sight of their journalistic integrity in the wake of increasingly sensational and frivolous assignments. Once the room clears, handsome but feeble-minded anchor Tom Grunick (William Hurt) compliments her speech and accepts her invitation to dinner.

    Back at her hotel room, Tom confides he is uncomfortable with his runaway success because he rarely understands the stories he reads on air. When Jane suggests he make an effort to strengthen his qualifications, Tom takes offense to her forthright manner and leaves in embarrassment. Later that evening, he calls Jane to reveal that her network has hired him as its new anchor.

    During his first week on the job, Tom is intimidated by Jane's intensity, but continually seeks her advice. Eventually, he convinces her to produce his latest story idea, which is well received by network management and bolsters his confidence. Over time, Jane realizes she has complicated feelings for Tom, even though she does not respect him. When Libyans bomb a U.S. military base in Italy, network director Paul Moore (Peter Hackles) calls for a live breaking news report with Tom as anchor. Jane objects, insisting that her close but undervalued colleague, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), is substantially more qualified, but Paul refuses to listen. As a result, Aaron feeds information to Jane over the phone, which she relays to Tom through his earpiece. The report is a rousing success, and Tom is exhilarated by their teamwork, comparing it to "great sex."

    Afterward, Jane visits Aaron, who is drunk at his apartment. He hints at his affection for her, but Jane gives him a friendly goodbye kiss before rushing off meet her co-workers at a bar across town. Hoping to catch Tom alone, she is disappointed to find him leaving the party with a female colleague. As Jane's infatuation with Tom grows, she musters the confidence to invite him to a party where the two acknowledge their mutual attraction. At the end of the evening, Tom pitches his first solo assignment about the rising dangers of date rape. Although Jane initially laughs at the suggestion, the piece later proves to be an emotionally powerful expose that causes her to reconsider her more conservative reporting style.

    One afternoon, Paul Moore announces that he has been forced to implement a $24 million budget cut, resulting in massive layoffs. Sympathetic bureau chief Ernie Merriman (Robert Prosky) warns Aaron that he may be fired. Determined to prove himself as an anchor, Aaron begs for a chance to read the weekend news. Ernie agrees, and enlists Tom to coach Aaron in the more superficial elements of his presentation. Although Aaron writes a compelling copy, he lacks Tom's charisma, and perspires excessively on camera. Meanwhile, Jane accompanies Tom to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, but the two leave the party to share a romantic moment on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. As their embrace becomes intimate, Jane suddenly remembers her promise to check on Aaron after his report, and asks Tom to wait for her.

    At his apartment, Aaron relays the disastrous events of the evening and offers to cook Jane dinner. She declines, confessing her feelings for Tom. Aaron bitterly reminds her that the vacuous anchor personifies everything she has been fighting against. In an attempt to dissuade her from pursuing the relationship, Aaron admits he has secretly been in love with her for some time. Unsure what to do, Jane calls Tom to tell him she is running late, but he cancels their engagement. Upset, she confronts Tom at work the next day, and they reconcile.

    As the station restructures, Jane learns she has been assigned to replace Ernie Merriman, while Tom is promoted to the network office in London, England. Paul keeps Aaron on the team as a "cost efficient" reporter, but Aaron quietly resigns and accepts an anchor position in Portland, Oregon, where he hopes he will be more appreciated. With only a week before his new job starts, Tom convinces Jane to take a vacation with him so they can test their compatibility outside the workplace. Before leaving, she meets Aaron for coffee. Still hurt by her decision, Aaron informs her that Tom faked crying onscreen during the date rape story. After reviewing the outtakes, Jane is disgusted by Tom's breach of ethics and chooses to forgo their vacation.

    Several years later in the present day 1987, Tom, Aaron, and Jane reunite at a broadcasting conference. While the men each have stable careers and growing families, Jane has accepted a prestigious position as a managing editor in New York City, and reveals she has begun a new, but happy, relationship with another man.

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