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February 03, 2004

"Tanner '88"

Dear Friedrich --

George Hunka (here), scourer extraordinaire of the TV-schedule pages, points out that, starting this evening, the Sundance Channel will be broadcasting the Robert Altman/Garry Trudeau miniseries "Tanner '88," one episode a week for eleven weeks.

Did you ever catch the series? Trudeau and Altman invented a Democratic presidential candidate and ran him in the 1988 elections, writing and filming the series for HBO in near-"real time." Not all the episodes sparkle, but many of them do. I thought the series had some of Altman's best and most innovative work; watching it, you can see antecedants of reality TV and of new-media political-campaign shenanigans too. Dazzling stuff that's full of lively performances (Michael Murphy, Pamela Reed, Cynthia Nixon) and real people playing themselves; Altman's characteristic overlappings, doublings, and multidimensional unfoldings aren't in short supply either.

Altman fan numero uno here says: Go for it, all the more so because the series hasn't been easy to find, I don't know why. So the Sundance Channel's rebroadcast, in celebration of election season, is something to be relished. Sundance begins broadcasting the series tonight (Tuesday) at 9 pm. Gentlemen, set your VCRs.

The Sundance Channel's page about the series is here.



posted by Michael at February 3, 2004


My problem with Altman, who is clearly a gifted artist, is that as a thinker he tends toward flip, self-satisfied and, in my opinion, cheap shots. (I remember with considerable distaste his comment about using actors as Country-and-Western singer-songwriters in Nashville: "Anyone can write a country-and-western song." Yeah, right, tell that to Hank Williams, Bob. And Garry Trudeau, while a funny guy, often loses most of his humor when picking up his mighty lance to chastise the non-ultra-liberal infidels.

Hence, the idea of watching Altman & Trudeau at work on the subject of politics--already not exactly a repository of profundity--scares me. Am I right to be apprehensive about submitting myself to their somewhat low-rent wisdom in "Tanner '88"?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 3, 2004 11:42 AM

Altman and Trudeau can both be really annoying, you're right. I haven't seen the series since it first came out and could be misremembering. But as I remember it, they were both on good behavior, functioning as satirists and sociological observers. I also remember some drippy and flat moments. But I loved the reality-TV stuff, and the observations about the scene. It was a funny experience watching the show. I seem to remember that it came on without the usual title-fanfare, and it had a real shot-on-video look, so you wondered what the hell you were watching. Was it a program, a documentary? Had you stumbled into CSPAN? At its best you just didn't know what the hell it was, only it seemed very a propos, and that was great. I wonder what it looks like today, when everyone's used to watching "Cops" and all kinds of reality-TV permutations...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 3, 2004 10:43 PM

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