On Thursday, ESPN pulled the plug on a scheduled Will Ferrall-as-Ron Burgandy (shown above, in a slightly different costume) hosting of “SportsCenter”, mindful that the titular star of the “Anchorman” franchise was probably the wrong guy to discuss the Jameis Winston case. Said cancellation was just as well in the view of The New Republic’s Laura Bennett, who’s had her fill of Ferrall’s whirlwind tour of local and national TV outlets of late.
When journalists interview movie characters, it generally tends to be an awkward dance between the film’s promotionals aims and the professional responsibilities of actual people doing their job. In a smart NPR piece from last year about Sacha Baron Cohen’s indulgent in-character interviews with the likes of Matt Lauer and Larry King, Marc Hirsh wrote that Baron Cohen “imposes a subtle tyranny on anyone who tries to engage with him.” Ferrell-as-Burgundy on North Dakota’s KVMB had a similar effect : there was not much the real anchors could do besides soldier sheepishly through their own dispatches as Ferrell made a mockery of their daily professional existence. It would have been funny as a quick promotional spot—as an entire hour-long broadcast, it was somewhat boggling. And setting aside the question of whether there is some nominal obligation for journalists to act as journalists instead of shilling for Paramount Pictures, by the time Burgundy took the podium at Emerson’s communications school, the novelty of watching his antics collide with the efforts of real journalists had fully worn off. Ferrell is quirky and performance-arty enough in interviews when he is not playing a character—take the recent Jimmy Fallon appearance where he wore a white turtleneck with what appeared to be a large mustard stain. But his string of Burgundy appearances, each featuring the same catchphrases and eyebrow-cocked ’70s misogyny, maxxed out fast.