‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ was released in 2004 and it’s gone on to become a comedy classic, often showing on TV around the world. With a stellar cast that includes Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner, the film is outrageously funny and endlessly quotable. A sequel – ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ – was released in 2013 further cementing Ron Burgundy’s place in the comedy characters hall of fame. Set in the 70s, ‘Anchorman’ tells the story of Ron Burgundy (played by Ferrell), a charismatic newsreader who falls for his new co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Applegate) and enters into a fierce rivalry with her when she becomes more popular than him.
Saul Austerlitz is lifting the lid on the ‘Anchorman’ phenomenon with his new book ‘Kind of a Big Deal: How Anchorman Stayed Classy and Became the Most Iconic Comedy of the Twenty-First Century’. The expansive book takes a deep dive into how the film came to be made, the casting process, the reception it received on release and the way its legacy has carried on since. The first part of the book digs into how director and co-writer Adam McKay and co-writer and lead star Ferrell got the film off the ground. There were many false starts along the way but by the time they got to auditions there were stars falling over themselves to be in the film. Austerlitz talks of how Bob Odenkirk (‘Better Call Saul’) lost out on the role of Brian Fantana to Paul Rudd by a whisker and how Veronica Corningstone, originally called Alicia, was in the grasp of both Maggie Gyllenhaal (‘Secretary’) and Amy Adams (‘Enchanted’) before the role eventually went to comedy vet Christina Applegate. One of the best gems in this part is when Austerlitz reveals that James Spader was considered for the role of Brick Tamland but lost out to Steve Carell when he didn’t want to have to audition.
In the second part of the book, Austerlitz looks at the production of the film and the influences that helped shape how it looked. He shines a spotlight on the character of Veronica, exploring who the character was based on and looks at what the rivalry between news teams was really like in the 70s. Fans of the film will remember that Ron’s crew, News Channel 4, had an OTT rivalry with their competitors, which played out in both of the ‘Anchorman’ films to hilarious effect. Austerlitz also explores the legacy of the film and the careful line the writers had to tread when it came to how the audience is supposed to feel about Ron and his friends. Some of the things Ron does in the film are shocking and the way Veronica is objectified and treated is uncomfortable, but the audience is never made to feel like the film is celebrating misogyny. Instead, there are plenty of laughs to be had at Ron’s expense. This section also touches upon the initial poor response from test audiences and the film ‘Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie’, which was created from outtakes from the ‘Anchorman’ shoot.
The third and final part of the book gives an overview of the film’s release and the critics’ reaction to it before looking at how ‘Anchorman’ changed comedy in Hollywood and paved the way for plenty of movies that struck gold at the box office but owed it a serious debt. Austerlitz takes time to discuss and shed some light on the sequel and the career Ferrell has enjoyed since his star turn as Ron Burgundy.
A nice addition to the book is a series of colour photos that show stills from the film along with early concept drawings of the characters. I’m always fascinated to see where the germ of an idea comes from and these drawings are a fantastic inclusion.
‘Kind of a Big Deal’ really is an exhaustive history of ‘Anchorman’. You may think that there’s not much to know about the film but you’d be wrong. Austerlitz’s attention to detail and thorough research is impressive, and while reading this book I fell in love with the film all over again. ‘Anchorman’ is a true American comedy classic and honestly, as I bring this review to an end I’m thinking about digging out my DVD copy and giving it a rewatch (again).
Publisher: Dutton Release date: 22nd August 2023 Buy ‘Kind of a Big Deal’ now
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