• Ratings Game, The

    Released By: Olive Films
    Released On: July 19, 2016.
    Director: Danny DeVito
    Cast: Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Gerrit Graham, Lee Ving
    Year: 1984
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    The Movie:

    1983. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, I was catching Batman and The Green Hornet re-runs on my lunch hour, and the Showtime Network decided to take a chance on television star/new Director Danny DeVito and Writers Jim Mulholland and Michael Barrie due to the appeal of their "Likely Stories" comedy anthology entries. The mission: to create a made-for-pay-TV movie that will propel the network to new heights with a comedy that would never be shown on cable television.

    Fresh from the cancellation of the hit show Taxi, DeVito stars as Vic DeSalvo, one half of a family-owned, multi-million dollar trucking enterprise out of New Jersey. Bored with life and needing a change of pace, Vic and his brother move out to Los Angeles where Vic tries his hand at writing scripts for television, shopping them around to various networks. But despite a wealth of written works, his own chauffeur, Bruno (Frank Sivero), and his boisterous presence at some of the most chic restaurants in Hollywood, Vic finds this an uphill battle, being thrown out of offices all over town when he tries to peddle some of the worst scripts ever written for network TV. Fed up with his wasting of the company's money, Vic's brother gives him an ultimatum; sell a script in the next month, or bite the bullet and move back to Jersey.

    Things don't look good for Vic, but a bizarre change of luck rears its beastly head when the top brass at MBC, the crappiest of the networks, with a roster full of horrible television shows, decides to arbitrarily fire one of their employees responsible for comedy development. Drunk off his ass and in the mood for revenge, he signs Vic up to direct an original DeSalvo script...a bad, Italian-flavoured Three's Company ripoff called, "Sitttin' Pretty"...a terrible creative idea that MBC head Parker Braithwaite (Gerrit Graham) is legally obligated to produce. Sitttin' Pretty certainly doesn't seem destined for greatness, however, as DeVito fires the good-looking lead and inserts himself into the cast, with decidedly un-comic results.

    Never one to let fact get in the way of a good party, Vic throws a gala celebration to announce his arrival into the world of television, but nobody shows up. Nobody, that is, except for Francine (Rhea Perlman), a head statistician for the television ratings corporation that decides through the use of electronic analysis which television shows are the most popular, and which get the axe. Vic and Francine spend the night talking and bonding about their New Jersey roots, falling quickly for each other, and when Vic realizes that his show will probably tank, Francine's feelings for Vic compound with her job dissatisfaction and hatred of her boss (Kevin McCarthy, essentially playing his UHF character), and she agrees to help juggle the numbers to make Sittin' Pretty a hit. But can such tomfoolery turn a lousy show into a sensation? Vic is convinced that it can, and throws a number of equally terrible scripts, including a politically-incorrect cartoon called Goombas into production. What will be the first to give? Public appreciation? Vic's ego? Or Francine's willingness to support her man?

    "Devastatingly Funny" is how the Chicago Sun Times described The Ratings Game, but I don't know that I'd go that far. It IS funny, to be sure, from DeVito's delivery to the show Sittin' Pretty itself, not to mention the host of guest appearances; Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld, and Lee Ving; The Ratings Game has a lot to laugh at despite it's slightly dated concept. DeVito's direction is perfect for the picture as well, keeping things moving along at a fairly rapid pace, but letting the writer's jokes breathe when they need to, lingering when it's appropriate.

    The heart of what makes The Ratings Game so funny, though, is also what ultimately cripples it in this age of social media. The idea of tampering with the Neilsen ratings, a horrifying concept back in the 80's, is pretty much lost today on anyone who doesn't remember when a limited number of households could kill off great television at the same time that it guaranteed the longevity of total garbage, and by the time The Ratings Game raps up, the conclusion either totally backfires on the initial message, or speaks loudly in a stunning slap to the face of the viewing public.


    Olive brings The Ratings Game to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.33:1 transfer (the OAR for Showtime's Television presentation) that looks pretty decent. Blacks are generally solid, detail is crisp, and the picture is largely clean of dirt and debris. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (the back of the box says mono) is equally as acceptable. While it certainly won't dazzle, there's enough dynamic range and lack of issue in the track that it competently carries dialogue, sound effects, and score throughout.

    English Subs are provided.

    First up in the supplements are The Short Films, four films that DeVito did before The Ratings Game. Political campaigning, gangsters, soup, and a variety of other topics are tackled in A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening (13:49), The Selling of Vince D'Angelo (20:57), Minestrone (11:51), and The Sound Sleeper (11:52). The video quality on these varies wildly from film to film, but they're all worth a watch.

    3 Deleted Scenes (6:03) are also included, as is a Making Of Featurette (6:50) which is a behind-the-scenes look at The Ratings Game with DeVito talking about his work on Taxi, and Rhea Perlman discussing working with DeVito.

    Promo (1:41) is essentially the Showtime Trailer for the film, and a short introductory essay and other stills from the film can be found in the insert booklet.

    The Final Word:

    The Ratings Game is an entertaining and humorous look at a system that has rapidly become obsolete, making me wonder if its time has come. Still, for those who remember, it's a worthwhile comedy. Olive have done a pretty swell job in grabbing extras for this one as well, with the DeVito short films standing out.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Wow, this sounds really similar to UHF.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      There are similarities for sure, especially when McCarthy shows up as the ratings boss haha. They are pretty different films, though, and while this one is amusing, UHF cracks me up to no end.
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      Me too. Raul's Wild Kingdom!
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
    1. Newt Cox's Avatar
      Newt Cox -
      I remember one of the big networks showing this fairly often in the mid to late 80s. I had forgotten about it until a friend ended up with a copy on VHS.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -