A Classic Broadcast News Scene Was Inspired By A Real Moment Of Frenzy At NBC

"Broadcast News" premiered at a pivotal time for the news industry: James L. Brooks' 1987 newsroom-set classic was born into a world in which pay cable, the internet, and the 24-hour news cycle were about to change the way the world received information for good. As such, the movie would already feel like a throwback to a simpler time just a few years after its release. Great as it is, it would soon join the ranks of movies and shows about legacy media (a subgenre that includes movies like "All the President's Men" and "Spotlight," plus Aaron Sorkin's already-ridiculous-upon-release "The Newsroom," among others) that portray a writing world that looks nothing like the current freelance-heavy digital landscape.

Brooks was apparently acutely aware of the changing media world even as he made the film. In a retrospective interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2018, the filmmaker recalls being inspired to create one of the movie's most famous scenes when a visit to a real-life newsroom confirmed that it reflected reality. "I was in the NBC local newsroom in Washington one day, and someone was running their tail off," Brooks recalled. "I said, 'Oh, thank God, they still run!'" The staff member (or, more likely, intern or page) booking it through the building inspired a thrilling, funny scene in the movie, in which Joan Cusack's character Blair sprints through an office and hallway to deliver a news tape in time for a broadcast.

Joan Cusack's most famous scene came from a real-life moment

In the scene, a then mostly unknown Cusack tilts under an open file cabinet like she's playing limbo, leaps over a visiting toddler in an open doorway, and collides with a water fountain before finally getting the time-sensitive footage to the control room. For her part, Cusack loves the scene: in a 2000 interview with NPR, she called the movie "[one of] my favorite things I've ever done" and confessed that when she wrapped the scene, the crew gave her "one of those horseshoe wreaths like horses get at the end of a race."

Cusack says she filmed the scene in fits and starts throughout production. "They shot it in lots of different pieces, and so it was like sort of a running — not a running gag, but a running theme that we were shooting all through the film," she explained on Fresh Air. "There was maybe seven or eight pieces of it that we did at different times." The actress also said she used a combination of knee pads, newspapers, and a silicon floor spray to make the file cabinet slide work.

In praise of the deadline dash

Brooks may have been worried that newsrooms of the '80s didn't really include the same hustle and bustle of the earlier newsroom-centric films (before "Broadcast News" and "Network," there were "His Girl Friday" and "Citizen Kane"), but it seems as if rushing for a deadline is maybe the only part of classic newsroom culture that remains intact today. I booked it across my college campus to cover a fire in 2012, and we here at /News metaphorically book it across the internet to file breaking news all the time in 2024. "There's a certain adrenalin charge in delivering on a commitment at the last moment, in rushing out to be an instant hero or an instant failure," Roger Ebert wrote in his original "Broadcast News" review.

Even the late author David Foster Wallace once admitted he had his own "Broadcast News" moment: in a 1998 interview with Slate, the "Infinite Jest" writer cited a lengthy essay he wrote about a cruise ship experience for Harper's as his own Blair Litton moment. "It was very exciting," he told the outlet. "[I] rewrote the ending like an hour before they had to wrap the magazine. It was like that moment in 'Broadcast News' when Joan Cusack was having to run through the hallway to get the tape to Jack Nicholson in time to run it." Traditional media may be dead and gone, but the mad dash to a deadline lives on — in one form or another.