Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:02 - Released 3/26/99

In this era of satellite television, when more and more varied programming is available to the viewing public, it must be difficult for the TV networks to come up with interesting shows to grab their share of the ratings. In addition to news, sports, dramas, and sitcoms, one can now watch broadcasts of court proceedings, police officers on the job, and fatal or near-fatal accidents caught on home video. This so-called "real" TV is becoming more popular than ever, and it is this new genre that is the focus of edTV, a comedy from director Ron Howard about an everyday man who agrees to have his life broadcast live during virtually all his waking hours.

This film was written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (long-time collaborators whose work includes films like Forget Paris and Multiplicity), based on the screenplay for the 1994 French film Louis 19, Le Roi Des Ondes by Emile Gaudreault and Sylvie Bouchard. It is filled with humor and yet presents some telling commentary about our love-hate relationship with the media. But it also tells a nice romantic story with several engaging performances.

Ed Pekurny, played by Matthew McConaughey, is chosen by the "True TV" network to be the star of an ongoing, live broadcast of every aspect of his life. The show is the brainchild of Cynthia (Ellen DeGeneres), the program manager for True TV, who hopes it will catch on as a sort of real-life soap opera. Ed is cautiously willing to do it, mainly because he gets a huge "balloon payment" if the show is picked up. His family has mixed reactions to the idea, though: His enterprising brother Ray (Woody Harrelson) is excited about the possibility of free advertising for his new fitness center, but his mother (Sally Kirkland) and stepfather (Martin Landau) are afraid the show might get too "dirty." Also unsure is Cynthia's boss, Dr. Whitaker (Rob Reiner), who is deathly afraid of having his name attached to what might become a network bomb.

But the deal is made and the show airs. Though it attracts viewers who are curious about what the network is up to, the numbers are weak after a few days, and Whitaker threatens to pull the plug. But when Ray's girlfriend Shari (Jenna Elfman) decides to leave Ray for Ed, the ratings skyrocket. The saga of this love triangle attracts viewers all across the country, and soon Ed, Shari, and Ray are appearing on tabloid newspapers and TV talk shows. But when the pressure of constant, live coverage starts getting too intense, Shari and Ed begin to show signs of strain. Soon Ed finds his family, the network, and all his adoring fans turning against him.

This movie will inevitably be compared with last year's The Truman Show (much to director Howard's annoyance), but the differences are many. In that film, the subject of the show didn't realize he was on TV. In this case, Ed is well aware of the camera crew following him around night and day, and that makes this story a little more believable from a logistics standpoint. It is not nearly as bizarre a concept as Truman, and it is also a lot funnier than that film (which was not intended as a comedy). However, there are enough similarities to make most people look on this effort as sloppy seconds, and that's too bad. Though edTV slows down considerably in the final reel, it is generally a lot of fun and the performances by McConaughey, Elfman, and DeGeneres are thoroughly enjoyable. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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