The 2004 movie "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" may depict a goup of 1970s local news broadcasters as a bunch of chauvinistic, panther cologne-wearing, jazz flute-playing buffoons. But its premise, the hostility a female reporter faces when she joins an all-male local TV news team, is based in reality, says the curator of a new exhibit about the film at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
"In any satire, which is really what "Anchorman" is, there's a kernel of truth. And in this movie there are many," says Carrie Christofferson, the Newseum director of collections and a member of the development team behind "Anchorman: The Exhibit."
The exhibit, which opens Thursday and runs to Aug. 31, 2014, includes "Anchorman" images, costumes and props that shed light on the actual developments underway in local TV news during the 1970s. "We go from a single white man reading you the news to a news team, or a family – a group of people doing the news together and integrating and chemistry,' Christofferson says. News teams were "growing in their diversity in gender and in race, and beginning to look a lot more like the communities they represented."
While the misogynist sentiments depicted in "Anchorman" are a bit extreme – "It is anchorman, not anchorlady. And that is a scientific fact," sports anchor Champ Kind (David Koechner) says in the movie – women entering the field did meet real adversity from their male colleagues.
"That tension is laid out in the sort of over-the-top ridiculous form by Ron Burgundy, but has its reality in truth," Christofferson says. "Many men in the newsroom in the 1970s thought it was their space, their place, their right. They had owned it for so long and they were going to keep doing that."
In fact, "Anchorman" star and co-writer Will Ferrell was inspired to make the movie when he saw a documentary about 1970s TV news reporter Jessica Savitch in which her co-anchor Mort Crim admitted to feeling threatened by the presence of a female on his team.
There are other real life trends on display at the exhibit, which the movie satirizes in the most outrageous way possible, like the scene in which the news teams of rival local stations get into a back alley fight that culminates in whip lashing and trident throwing.
"Ratings were really important. Local news teams were fighting hard to be at the top of their ratings game", Christofferson says. The exhibit includes the whip brandished by Spanish news anchor Arturo Mendes (Ben Stiller) and some other artifacts from the scene, as well as images of real life local TV news ads that mocked rival stations.
Also on display is Ron Burgundy's mustache brush and the head gear he wears in his sleep. The emphasis on an anchor's looks continues today, Christofferson says, "Women in particular then were scrutinized pretty heavily on looks in this period." Judy Woodruff, now the co-anchor on PBS's "News Hour," was told by management she needed to cut her hair when she was starting out at the CBS Atlanta affiliate.
The Newseum "Anchorman" exhibit comes as the press tour for the sequel kicks up into full force. One case of artifacts from the upcoming "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues " will be unveiled December 17, the week of the film's premiere, for which The Newseum is hosting a special screening. "Anchorman: The Exhibit" was Ferrell's idea after he attended a screening at the Newseum last year, and he is currently taking his Ron Burgundy alter ego on a wide-ranging media blitz that included filming commercials for the Dodge Durango that have yielded a 59 percent sales hike for the vehicle. In its five years since opening, the Newseum has had trouble covering its costs, so the Ron Burgundy seal of approval could help the museum there too.
"We are always happy to embrace every visitor," Christofferson says. "We are playing to as many people as we possibly can and this exhibit is going to have real broad appeal."