Kind of a Big Deal: Anchorman Gets Newseum Exhibit

When Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens Dec. 20, Ron Burgundy’s news prowess won’t be the only thing on display. So too will a whole new batch of period attire, newsroom props, and—if we’re lucky—maybe another pair of burgundy briefs.

Some of those props will simultaneously be on display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., where an Anchorman exhibit opens today with a prominent, mysterious feature: A black false wall that reads, “Our lips are sealed… and so is this exhibit case until Tuesday, Dec. 17.”

Not only has Ron Burgundy worked his way into history—and a sequel that arrives almost 10 years after the original, now a cult hit, bowed to modest box office returns—now the Newseum is honoring Anchorman as representative of history. “Don’t act like you’re not impressed,” as the man would say.

A well-groomed mustache is part of anchorman Ron Burgundy's (Will Ferrell) signature look. His mustache brush will be displayed in "Anchorman: The Exhibit."  Photo: Courtesy Paramount Pictures; mustache brush: Sarah Mercier/Newseum/Courtesy DreamWorks Studios

“Any good satire, any good spoof, has its basis in reality. It links back to some kernel of truth,” Carrie Christoffersen, a director of collections at the Newseum, told The Credits. “The idea for [Anchorman] really generated out from Will Ferrell seeing a documentary about Jessica Savitch and he was really struck by her male chauvinist cohorts.”

Left to right) Will Ferrell is Ron Burgundy and Christina Applegate is Veronica Corningstone in ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES to be released by Paramount Pictures. Photo credit: Gemma LaMana

While Ferrell and his collaborators often joke that part of their creative process is throwing out any research they do for their movies, the Newseum actually managed to pull together an edu-taining comparison of themes from Anchorman and the reality of the news business in the 1970s that highlights many details the movie got right: From waterskiing squirrels to an emphasis on the anchors’ hair.

"Anchorman: The Exhibit," featuring props, costumes and footage from the 2004 hit comedy "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." Photo credit: Maria Bryk

Christoffersen called it “a transformative period” in the news. The exhibit’s central theme is the rise of the female news anchor. Prior to the 70s, around 10 percent of local on-air anchors were women. Anchorman charts the resistance to changing that, but it also taps into some of the decade’s other big trends.

“We talk about the trend of eyewitness news in the 1970s that really took off, and ‘happy news,’ the banter between co-anchors, and all of that. That really started in the 1970s but it’s still, in a lot of ways, with us today,” explained John Powell, a writer for the new exhibit. Many real journalists are profiled side-by-side with the fictional San Diego’s Channel 4 news team, ranging from Al Primo, credited with creating “eyewitness news,” to Judy Woodruff, who started her career in the 70s as part of a local news team.

It is the first time the Newseum has hosted an exhibit for a fictional reporter. “Certainly journalists have sort of eternally been fodder for Hollywood..from the 30s His Girl Friday to modern day, there’s an interest in how and why journalists do what they do,” said Christoffersen. “That’s sort of the Newseum’s overarching theme: How and why journalists do what they do, what it means to you, what it means to them, how they manage it, how you consume it; all of that is part of what we’re just trying to take a big look at.”

It might still seem like a stretch that a museum that’s serious about the history of the news would memorialize an exaggerated caricature of a reporter known for his addiction to the teleprompter and loose relationship with facts, but it makes more sense when you know that Burgundy himself came up with the idea.

Last year, when Ferrell attended a movie premiere for The Campaign at the Newseum, he and his team suggested the collaboration. “They liked what they saw here,” according to Christoffersen. “And they could definitely see some levels of synergy with our subject matter and theirs, and sort of dropped the idea out there for us.”

The star has contributed six exclusive short videos responding to questions like “What is your advice for aspiring news anchors?” (Answer: “Drink plenty of fluids, and by fluids I mean bourbon or gin.”) Items on display include Veronica Corningstone’s (Christina Applegate) three-piece suit, Brian Fantana’s (Paul Rudd) original Sex Panther cologne (also on sale in the museum’s gift shop), a stuffed dog that doubled as Burgundy’s beloved Baxter, and an interactive replica of the news set.

Newseum staffers unpack Sex Panther cologne, the secret weapon that Channel 4 reporter Brian Fantana unleashes on colleague Veronica Corningstone in one of the classic scenes in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." Sex Panther will be displayed in "Anchorman: The Exhibit," opening Nov. 14 at the Newseum. Photo: Brendan O'Hara/Newseum/Courtesy Adam McKay

As for the top secret Anchorman 2 props, curators were tight-lipped, but expect a nod to yet another transformative period for journalism profiled in the new movie: the transition to cable news and the 24-7 news cycle.