Switching Channels

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Switching Channels
Switching Channels.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Produced by Martin Ransohoff
Written byJonathan Reynolds
Based on The Front Page (play)
by Ben Hecht
Charles MacArthur
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography François Protat
Edited by Thom Noble
Switching Channels Inc.
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release date
  • March 4, 1988 (1988-03-04)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million [1]
Box office$9,129,999

Switching Channels is a 1988 American comedy film remake of the 1928 play The Front Page , the 1931 film of the same name, and the 1940 film His Girl Friday . [2] It stars Kathleen Turner as Christy Colleran, Burt Reynolds as John L. Sullivan IV, Christopher Reeve as Blaine Bingham, Ned Beatty as Roy Ridnitz, Henry Gibson as Ike Roscoe, and George Newbern as Sigenthaler. The film was notorious for its harsh infighting between Reynolds and Turner during filming. The film was a box office failure and received mixed reviews from critics.


It is available on DVD in Regions 2 and 4. It is also available as a burn-on-demand DVD-R in Region 1.


Sullivan (Reynolds) is the operations manager of Satellite News Network, a fictitious cable TV news channel. He tries to prevent the impending marriage of Colleran (Turner), his best reporter and ex-wife, by keeping her on the job during the critical news coverage of an upcoming execution and prison break.


John L. "Sully" Sullivan, IV (Burt Reynolds) is the news director of a Chicago-based TV cable news station called Satellite News Network (SNN). His best reporter and ex-wife is Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) who decides to go away on a much-needed three-week vacation. After checking in at a resort in rural Ontario, Canada, Christy meets Blaine Bingham (Christopher Reeve), the wealthy owner of an international sporting goods company called Bingham Industries. Over the course of her vacation, Christy and Blaine fall in love.

Christy returns to Chicago with Blaine and goes to SNN studios where she meets with Sully, who orders her to go to the downtown jailhouse where convicted murderer Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) is awaiting execution by electric chair scheduled for midnight. Christy accuses Sully of always focusing on the news instead of hers or other's interests and announces she is quitting the TV station and marrying Blaine the day after tomorrow in New York City. Not wanting to let Christy leave him right away, Sully insists on meeting Blaine.

During lunch with Christy and Blaine at a local restaurant (a sports bar themed place complete with a boxing ring and ropes), Sully explains the current news story that Ike Roscoe is a man whose son died years earlier from a drug overdose and that Roscoe took the law into his own hands by killing the drug dealer who sold the drugs to his son, not realizing that the drug dealer was an undercover vice cop. Sully and Christy both believe the execution is a political issue, related to the Democratic primary contest between the Governor and Roy Ridnitz (Charles Kimbrough and Ned Beatty), the State's District Attorney who convicted Ike at trial. Sully suggests that if Christy were to have a poignant in-person interview with Ike and for it to air on the evening news, the Governor might pardon him. Blaine sides with Sully in which he tells Christy that she needs to do the interview to save the man's life. Touched by Blaine's selflessness, Christy agrees.

Determined to keep Christy in town for the next 24 hours, Sully works behind the scenes to keep her and Blaine in Chicago by first telling junior reporter Siegenthaler (George Newbern) to purchase all available airplane seats departing Chicago for New York to prevent Christy and Blaine from leaving town. Shocked that all flights are sold out, Blaine suggests he could get tickets on the 11:00 train. Next, Sully orders Siegenthaler to book all the train tickets, as well as seats on helicopters and all other forms of public transportation.

Meanwhile, Christy meets her camera crew outside the state prison where she intimidates Warden Terwilliger (Ken James) into granting her an interview with Roscoe. Christy also meets her replacement Karen Ludlow (Laura Robinson) to whom Christy wants to prove herself to be a better reporter and get the interview.

When Blaine manages to purchase some train tickets and Sully fails to stop him, he discovers that Blaine has a fear of heights from a book he finds in Blaine's belongings. Now working on a new plan to keep Christy in town, Sully offers Siegenthaler as a guide for Blaine to the silver store, but tells Siegenthaler to take Blaine to a city skyscraper (aware that his acrophobia will trigger a reaction). Siegenthaler takes Blaine downtown. Blaine gets on the glass elevator with Siegenthaler, but as the elevator rises, Blaine has a crippling anxiety attack and places his foot on the emergency stop button.

During Ike's interview, he mentions that today is Harold Houdini's birthday, and when he was a practicing magician, he would perform Houdini's tricks with his son. Upon Christy's request to perform Ike's son's favorite trick, Ike makes Christy's pen disappear from his hand, then reappear in her pocket. Outside the prison, Christy walks to the nearby criminal courts building, where she arrives at the newspaper press room. Ike Roscoe's attorney, Pamela Farbrother (Fiona Reid), arrives at the news office and tells Christy and the other reporters (Barry Flatman and Anthony Sherwood) that Ike did not receive a fair trial, but they ignore her. Pamela leaves crying, and Siegenthaler telephones Christy to inform her that Blaine is stuck in an elevator. Christy rushes to the building and learns that Sully told Siegenthaler to get Blaine onto the elevator. To distract Blaine into releasing the emergency stop, Christy kisses him.

Returning to SNN, Christy, Siegenthaler, and her crew run into the newsroom with the videotape of Ike's interview. After giving Sully a heated argument about his wicked scheming to keep her in town, Christy goes on-air to introduce her exclusive interview with Ike Roscoe. After the interview, the Governor is inundated with calls from citizens asking him to pardon Ike Roscoe, and decides to issue a pardon during the 11:00 pm news. Determined to see Ike executed to improve his political image to the public, Ridnitz orders Warden Terwilliger to move up the execution to 10:00 pm, under the pretense of ongoing riots and bomb threats. Ridnitz further decides to invite the media to televise the execution live.

At the prison, reporters crowd the execution chamber. As Ike is blindfolded and strapped into the chair, Ridnitz and Warden Terwilliger stand by to press the buttons that will send the electrical currents. However, when the buttons are pressed, the power goes out due to a power surge resulting from all the TV cameras being plugged into the chamber's one outlet. After flicking their pocket lighters on, everyone discovers that Ike has escaped.

Meanwhile, Christy sees Ike escaping while she and Blaine are riding in limousine on their way out of town. She gets out and tells Blaine she will meet him at the train station. When she catches up to Ike, Christy tells him to go to the second floor courthouse press room. Christy telephones Sully from the press room and tells him she found Ike. After she hangs up, Ike hides inside the press room photo copier as other reporters arrive. Ridnitz arrives with armed police, and announces that Ike was seen on the third floor.

After the others disperse in search of Ike, Christy lets him out of the copier. Pamela arrives and hugs Ike, but pushes him back into the copier as reporters return. To distract the reporters, Pamela jumps out a window to the courthouse lobby. Just then, Sully arrives with Siegenthaler and Christy's camera crew. As Christy gestures to the copier, Sully orders SNN reporter Karen Ludlow to interview Pamela about her jump. After the reporters run downstairs again, Ike gets out of the copier and records an interview with Christy about his escape. Afterward, Ike hides in the copier once again when the reporters return to the room. To get the copier out of the building, Sully offers to buy the copier. Blaine arrives and Christy convinces him to wait five minutes. After Sully and Christy leave for the elevator, the elevator arrives with Ridnitz and police. Sully and Christy stand in front of the machine, but officers pull them aside and shoot. Ridnitz opens the copier, and finds it empty. Ordering police to continue their search, Ridnitz asks Sully and Christy where Ike is. Warden Terwilliger arrives and announces that the Governor has just pardoned Ike Roscoe. Unseen by Ridnitz, Christy turns on a news camera, and tricks Ridnitz into confessing that he wanted Ike executed in order to win the election. Just then, the Governor arrives and reiterates that he has pardoned Ike Roscoe. Christy assists Ike as he climbs down from roof of the elevator car, then informs the Governor that she has Ridnitz's confession on bribery, attempted murder, and other charges on tape. Sully hands the tape over to Siegenthaler and tells him to run the story.

Sully and Christy return the SNN newsroom, and Blaine tells Christy that her true loves are the news and Sully. After Blaine leaves, Sully tells Christy they are going to Hawaii for their second honeymoon. Later in the final scene, as they lie on a beach enjoying their trip, a volcano erupts. This mimics their first honeymoon, where Sully spent the entire vacation covering a local volcano eruption. They laugh.


Filmed primarily in Canada with a Canadian director (Ted Kotcheff), Switching Channels features many popular Canadian character actors in supporting roles: Al Waxman as Berger, the station manager, Ken James as Warden Terwilliger, Barry Flatman and Anthony Sherwood as television reporters Zaks and Carvalho, Joe Silver as newswriter Mordsini, Tony Rosato, Jackie Richardson, Philip Akin, Laura Robinson, Fiona Reid and Jack Duffy. It also co-stars Charles Kimbrough as the hapless Governor.


The male lead was meant to be played by Michael Caine but he was delayed filming Jaws: The Revenge . Burt Reynolds was cast instead. Reynolds recalled:

I wasn't doing anything other than sitting around mulling over the lint in my belly button... I've always been a great fan of Ted Kotcheff - I really liked North Dallas Forty - and I loved the period of films, the thirties and the forties, The Front Page comes out of. I hope Cary Grant, whom I knew and admired, won't be whirling in his grave over what we've done. But we're keeping it fast and talky: some scenes are eight pages of dialogue. [3]

Turner-Reynolds Feuding

Kathleen Turner and Burt Reynolds had a very strained working relationship on set, and both have commented negatively on one another in years since.

In 2018, Kathleen Turner said the following of her experience working with Burt Reynolds on Switching Channels:

"Working with Burt Reynolds was terrible. The first day Burt came in he made me cry. He said something about not taking second place to a woman. His behavior was shocking. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t someone’s equal. I left the room sobbing. I called my husband and said, 'I don’t know what to do.' He said, 'You just do the job.' It got to be very hostile because the crew began taking sides. But as for the performance, I was able to put the negativity aside. I’m not convinced Burt was." [4]

In March 2018, when he was asked by Andy Cohen who the most overrated actor of the 1970s and 1980s was, Reynolds cited Turner. [5]


Critical response

Siskel & Ebert gave Switching Channels mixed results: Ebert was positive about the film and liked how the film did overall; however, Siskel expressed strong disappointment in the film and gave Switching Channels a thumbs down. [6] Rotten Tomatoes currently lists Switching Channels with a 62% rating based on 13 reviews. [7]

Reeve, who played against type as the hapless fiancé, later expressed regret in making the film, believing he "made a fool of himself" and that he had only taken the project as a distraction from depression following a divorce. He also reportedly had to act as "referee", as costars Turner and Reynolds feuded with each other during filming. According to his autobiography Still Me, one of the main reasons he took the role was because Michael Caine was originally lined up to play Sullivan, and he had enjoyed working with Caine six years earlier in Deathtrap , but after signing on found out that Caine had been booted out in favor of Reynolds. Another scene Reeve was in disfavor of was his character suffering acrophobia by showing fear when in a scenic glass elevator, a likely spoof of Reeve's best known role as Superman.

The film was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards: Burt Reynolds was nominated for Worst Actor and Christopher Reeve for Worst Supporting Actor. However, they respectively "lost" to Sylvester Stallone for Rambo III and Dan Aykroyd for Caddyshack II .

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  1. "The Unstoppables". Spy. November 1988. p.  92.
  2. Canby, Vincent (March 4, 1988). "Film: Turner in 'Switching Channels'". The New York Times .
  3. REYNOLDS RAP Scott, Jay. The Globe and Mail27 June 1987: E.1.
  4. David Marchese (2018-08-07). "In Conversation: Kathleen Turner". Vulture.com. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  5. Burt Reynolds Call Kathleen Turner Overrated. Bravotv.com. 2018-03-16. Retrieved 2018-08-10.
  6. "Switching Channels film review from Siskel & Ebert". Buena Vista Television . Retrieved May 9, 2009.[ permanent dead link ]
  7. "Switching Channels movie reviews". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved January 24, 2021.