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The film starts with Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy character going through a long series of vocal warmups and nips of scotch as he waits to go on air. The 70s depicted so lovingly in this movie aren't the 70s of American rent by anguish over Vietnam and students getting shot. Nixon seems to be long gone as well. It looks like we're in that dull period between the 1974 energy crisis and the Iran hostage taking of '79 when Nothing Happened in America. And during that period, the local 6:00 news was king. Thirty minutes of reports on local fires, holdups, car accidents, and the occasional shooting, buffered with the bubble wrap of cute animals, spelling bee winners, and toddlers rescued from wells.
Ron Burgundy fits that era perfectly. We don't see any of the hard news, although the first broadcast shows more footage of Nutty the water-skiing squirrel, the first of several references to Dodgeball in the film (a still of Nutty was featured on the montage of the kind of sports covered by Dodgeball's ESPN 8).
After the show his boss, Ed Harken, played by Fred Willard, stalwart member of Christopher Guest's improv comedies, tells the team the good news, that they're tops in the ratings once again. This calls for a party, a quick chance to firm up the 1970s time. Field reporter Brian Fantana introduces the names of the various components of his genitalia. Dense weatherman Brick Tamland is doing something in the kitchen involving a toaster and lots of mayonnaise. And we meet the sports man on the team, Champ Kind the cowboy, who has his trademark "Whammy" squeal.
Meanwhile Ron Burgundy walks around with his bathrobe open exposing his red y-fronts, but it's the 70s -- this is what people did, supposedly. At the party he's stricken by a blond woman, who first doesn't know who he is, and second turns him down. While he claims to have an apartment full of leatherbound books and mahogany furniture, when we see him arrive home alone, we see that Ron's only true friend, who really understands him (or helps him understand himself) is his dog Baxter. Ron might be a successful anchorman, but he's a lonely, superficial soul, and he knows it.
The woman turns out to be Veronica Corningstone, who's been hired by KVNW to add some diversity to the news team. She's using the quota system as a way of making a career for herself in TV journalism. Not for her is Mary Richards' position as permanent associate producer, whatever that meant. She's aiming to be a network anchor, and if that means covering cat fashion shows for a local affiliate, that's what she'll do.
During a walk to the beach, Ron's Channel 9 team runs into the second-place Channel 2 team, headed by Vince Vaughn's Wes Mantooth. The good guy from Dodgeball is the bad guy here, running a constant Jets-vs-Sharks bout of playground taunts between him and Ron's team that you know will lead to a rumble.
A good chunk of the first half of the film covers her attempts to break into Ron's all-male team. The playboy and the sports cowboy both fail, and the cerebrally-challenged weatherman's invitation to a party in his pants doesn't go very far either. But Ron plays it cooler, and offers to show her around town, help her learn more about the city she's assigned to cover. First they park (something people did before that urban legend about the hook on the door handle scared everyone off), where Ron tells her "San Diego" is German for "whale vagina". Then he takes her to Tino's night club for serious 70s-era drinks ("a Manhattan, easy on the vermouth", with something to do with trains on the side that I missed -- people in the 70s knew their drinks a lot better than we do now, although the beer now is way better). They knew their smoking as well -- if this film does well it'll boost tobacco smokes a few points. Everyone smokes at some point during the action. It's what people did in the 70s. And yes, there are plenty of references to Michaelob in the film.
Back to Tino's, and one of the highlights in this movie. Tino comes by to welcome Ron and his new lovely girlfriend. Veronica explains she's a co-worker, and they aren't on a date. Tino then invites Ron to play some "jas fruit" at his club. Ron says no, that he's not prepared, but Tino insists, and Ron steps on state, pulls a flute out of his jacket somewhere, gives the key and a couple of suggestions to the other musicians, goes to the mike, and blows a couple of shrill misses. But he's warming up, and whether this was real or it was Memorex, it's a terrific scene. The actual jazz is great, nice extemporaneous stuff with an Aqualung riff thrown in for good measure. Ron then leaves the stage, walking from table to table, crushing glasses of wine here and there, sipping up another glass with his flute (ok, so it's Memorex), even lying on a floor to serenade a gent reading the newspaper in a bathroom stall. He wins over Ms. Corningstone, they go back to his place, where she tells him to take her to "Pleasure Land". So they go for a metaphoric romp through a land of giant lollipops, riding twin unicorns and find a fluffy rainbow to slide down. (This is one sex scene the kids can see, as they won't have a clue about what's going on, but think twice about the language.)
Back at the office, he announces his new relationship to the team. They don't trust her, but he's a man in love. "What's it like", Brian Fantana asks. Not the love-making part, the love part. So Ron explains by leading them in an a capella rendition of "Afternoon Delight". So they seem to be in a state of peaceful co-existence with their new member, who is taking her assignments of cat fashion shows and centagenarians with meatloaf recipes in stride as she plans the next step in her career.
And this is when we move to Act 2. Ron is happily driving along in his car with his one true friend, his dog Baxter (named in homage to Ted, we assume), when he tosses his too-heavy burrito in the face of a motorcyclist just passing by. Now we've seen how the brothers always stop everything to watch Ron deliver the news, and Ron gets out to help the biker. The man's a little scratched up, but his rod is toast. He tells Ron he's lost the only thing that mattered to him, and then asks what Ron loves. Ron says his love of poetry, scotch, and his dog Baxter are the closest to his heart. So the biker grabs Baxter (obviously a plush toy now, even more so during the bloopers during the credits), and punts him off the bridge. This throws Ron into a severe depression. He misses the broadcast, delivered smoothly by Veronica despite the efforts of the rest of team trying to distract her by making faces, stripping, and playing piggy-back off-camera.
After the broadcast, Veronica gives a Marv Albert "Yessss!" after she gets through it without a slip. A movie like this invites you to find the anachronisms, and this was an obvious one, as it didn't catch on until the 80s some time.
A stranger anachronism was the 2x2x2 Rubik's cube that showed up on Fantana's desk. First, they didn't hit it big until 1981, when sideburns, wine-colored jackets, white leisure suits, and wide belts were all long gone. Second, they were 3x3x3. Guess the point was that he wasn't smart enough to figure out the smaller one (it stays scrambled).
No fair scrutinizing the phone booths. It's hard to find realistic booths from the era. But the office equipment -- bulky typewriters, avocado-colored rotary-dialed telephones, and an open area with desks is all there, along with the requisite smoke. Plenty of points for accuracy there.
But with Veronica succeeding, the pressure's on the four men. So they're about to do what true 70s-era dudes did when the going got tough -- shopping for suits. They even do that 70s-era slow-mo jump-in-the-air thing from the Toyota commercials. But instead of hitting the latest mall, Brick has led them to the wrong side of the warehouse district. Where they run into Vince's Channel 2 team, this time with an assortment of weapons -- switchblades, num-chuks, and a mace. Then along comes the third-place station (probably the ABC affiliate, but no names are used), carrying mediaeval swords. Then the public TV station shows up, headed by their pipe-smoking anchor with an Art Garfunkel do (this is probably Tim Robbins' uncredited part). And down the stairs comes the news hombres from the local Spanish language station, headed by Ben Stiller, doing the same sneer he did in Dodgeball (did they make these two movies at the same time and place)?
It's an all-out rumble. The third-place anchor loses an arm. Brick kills someone with a trident. There's a man on fire running through the melee, horses dragging victims, but when the sirens come on, everyone disperses. The public TV guy has that look of "why am I always the one who gets caught" that smart kids in grade 11 have when they're caught smoking dope. This leads to a girl-vs-guy fight at the office, and Veronica gets Ron where it hurts when she tells him "You have bad hair... you're hair ... looks ... stupid". At the girls' night out dinner, one of the women at the office tells Veronica that Ron will read whatever is put in the teleprompter. The next day she makes a quick edit, Ron signs off telling San Diego where to go (leaving the exact language off because this is a family site), and Ed has to fire him.
So Ron watches Veronica deliver the news as he stuffs himself at home on his couch (the way Dodgeball ended with Ben Stiller's character). He walks the street drinking milk. Bad idea, he realizes, considering the heat. He grows a beard, hangs around the bar, feeling washed up.
Meanwhile, the hottest news story of the summer is about to break -- the panda in the zoo is getting ready to deliver a baby (this was hot news in the Carter years, when Americans didn't want to be reminded of their tanking economy, the bicentennial hadn't changed anything, and there was nothing good playing on the radio). Veronica finds the killer shot at the zoo, and is about to call over her team, but public TV guy pushes her into the Kodiak Bear den. She doesn't want to scream for help, as the bears are still hibernating. So Ed gets on the phone, calls the bar, gets Ron on the line, and tells him to come back. Ron does a quick change in the bathroom, and then uses a conch shell to summon his news team. Word travels through the city, as well as winding through mountain valleys and rushing rivers, finally reaching Baxter, who never did die. Maybe he was in Wisconsin the whole time, like Ron had hoped. And his newsteam -- they were in the bar the whole time playing pool, ready to roll.
The team gets to the zoo in time to decide whether to cover the panda or save Veronica. A tough call, but Ron jumps into the bearpit, just to see the bears awaken. The rest of the team jumps in to do battle. Although Brick has befriended them, riding one like a horse, it looks like it's toast when the mother bear comes out to take on the humans.
But Baxter shows up to the rescue. He jumps in, and starts communicating with the bear. He explains that he befriended a bear named "Katow-Jo" during his travels. "Katow-Jo is my cousin", growls the mother bear. She tells the bears to let the humans go, and pronounced Baxter a "friend of the bears".
Climbing out of the pit, Vaughn threatens to push Ron back in, but admits his admiration, and kisses him on the forehead. He announces on camera his respect for Ron, that it is his day, and lets Ron take center stage at the panda's delivery room (hidden from the public by a hospital curtain) for the story of his career.
Ron says he needs his co-anchor to do the story, and Veronica joins him, declaring on camera that she's 72% certains she loves him.
The movie ends with the American-Graffiti update of what happened to the main characters. Champ becomes an NFL commentator, but is then turfed for sexually harrassing Terry Bradshaw (there had been homosexual tendencies throughout the movie). Brian Fantana toko on the hit reality show Intercourse Island. And Brick seems to have ended up living with one of the bears, siring 11 kids, before becoming an important advisor in the Bush white house (I missed which Bush, but so many of them have been in both).
And Ron and Veronica have both achieved network anchormanship -- they're doing the news show not for the country, but they sign off telling Planet Earth to stay classy. And it seems that they've moved in together, even though Baxter "isn't cool with that".
The closing credits show various takes and bloopers from the film, including Burt Reynolds spacing on a line from Smokey and the Bandit 2. But the best out-takes play on the way co-anchors used to chat silently while the credits rolled at the end of the news shows, while flipping through their scripts. You can't take your kids to this movie because of all the language, but the way the co-anchors crudely insulted one another while smiling and circling words in their scripts certainly rings true.