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Switching Channels (1988) - Plot Summary Poster

Plot

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Summaries

  • A television news chief courts his anchorwoman ex-wife with an eleventh-hour story.

  • Sully is the producer of a cable news network program. Christy is his ex-wife and best reporter. Her desire to quit the news business and marry Blaine, a sporting goods manufacturer comes as an innocent man is about to be executed. Sully's attempts to keep her in town and break up her upcoming marriage happen against the backdrop of a botched execution, a prison break and a possible pardon.

  • Having just returned from a much needed vacation to recharge her juices, Christy Colleran walks into the offices of the Chicago-based Satellite News Network (SNN), where she is a star on-air investigative reporter, to tell her boss, news director John Sullivan - Sully - that she is quitting. Sully also happens to be her ex-husband. Christy divorced Sully largely because she saw him as treating their relationship as news first, marriage second. She has also come to tell Sully that she is marrying New York sporting goods baron Blaine Bingham, the two who will be flying to New York City that afternoon to start their new life, and where Christy will work as a morning talk show host. Sully doesn't want to lose Christy, either as a reporter or a wife, and believes she truly will miss her investigative reporting life. Sully does whatever he can at least to delay Christy and Blaine's trip, long enough to persuade Christy to stay for good. His plan includes dangling a big story under her nose, namely getting an exclusive interview with Ike Roscoe, who is on death row and is scheduled to be executed at midnight. Ike admits to committing the murder of a police officer for which he was convicted, but that that officer was a drug dealer who sold to teenagers, including Ike's son, who died of a drug overdose. Ike did not know of him being a police officer, which may not have made any difference in his actions. Sully hopes that Christy's interview will lead to the hapless Governor issuing a pardon. They know Ike has been used as a pawn between the Governor and Roy Ridnitz, the state attorney who is running for Governor in the upcoming election. Regardless of if Christy is able to get the interview and if so what its effect is, she will have to decide if the thrill of the chase will change her mind about her upcoming more staid life.

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Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In this 1980s remake of 'His Girl Friday' (with elements of the play and film 'The Front Page') set in Chicago, Illinois, Satellite News Network (SNN) news director John L. "Sully" Sullivan, IV (Burt Reynolds), tells his best reporter and ex-wife, Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner), to go on a vacation to get away from her stress-full job. As she checks into a Canadian resort for a three-week stay, Christy accidentally moves a candlestick, setting a credit card on fire. She apologizes to card owner, Blaine Bingham (Christopher Reeve), owner of the sporting goods company, Bingham Industries. A day or two later, Blaine rescues Christy after she loses her canoe paddle in the lake. Over the course of her vacation, Christy and Blaine fall in love.

    Later, Christy returns to Chicago with Blaine. Arriving at SNN studios, Blaine waits in the lobby as Christy reports to Sully, who orders her to go to the downtown jailhouse where convicted murderer Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) is awaiting execution by electric chair. Christy accuses Sully of always focusing on the news, like the volcano that erupted during their honeymoon. While Sully laughs, Christy 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 for an in-person interview.

    In the lobby, Sully says he would like to treat Blaine and Christy to lunch. Christy insists they need to leave to catch their flight to New York in just a few hours from now. However, Blaine says they could purchase tickets for a later flight and accepts Sully's lunch offer. Christy heads back to get her laptop, but Sully offers to go instead. Finding junior reporter, Siegenthaler (George Newbern), Sully orders him to purchase all available airplane seats departing Chicago for New York to prevent Christy and Blaine from leaving town.

    At the restaurant (a sports bar themed place complete with a boxing ring), Sully receives a call from Siegenthaler about the airline bookings. Not to let Christy become aware of his plan, Sully says into the receiver that Christy's replacement, Karen Ludlow (Laura Robinson), is doing a great job. Christy insists she is a better reporter than Karen Ludlow, but Sully affirms that Ludlow, not Christy, will cover Ike Roscoe's 12:01 a.m. electrocution that very night. When Blaine asks who Ike Roscoe is, Christy tells him that after Ike's son, Anthony, died from a drug overdose, Ike shot and killed the drug dealer. However, the dealer turned out to be an undercover police officer. Blaine asks why the Governor does not issue a pardon, but Sully and Christy believe the execution is a political issue, related to the Democratic primary contest between the Governor and Roy Ridnitz (Ned Beatty), the State's District Attorney who convicted Ike at trial. Sully suggests that if Christy were to have a poignant 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, but on condition that Sully purchase equipment from Blaine's company for an SNN gym.

    Christy leaves the sports restaurant and meets her camera crew at the state prison. Warden Terwilliger (Ken James) denies her interview request, but Christy informs him she knows about the bribes he receives from prisoners to use his office for conjugal visits. Reluctantly, Terwilliger agrees.

    Meanwhile at SNN, Sully purchases exercise equipment while Blaine calls for airline tickets. Shocked that all flights are sold out, Blaine suggests he could get tickets on the 11:00 train. Determined to keep Christy in town, Sully finds Siegenthaler and tells him to book all the train tickets, as well as seats on helicopters and all other forms of public transportation. Afterward, Sully calls the mail room and orders that next week when the Bingham Industries shipment arrives, they should return it.

    Christy telephones Sully from the prison waiting room, letting him know that she got the interview with Ike. Blaine gets on the line with her and tells Christy he managed to purchase train tickets. Realizing he is too late, Sully calls Siegenthaler to stop the bookings. Afterward, Sully notices a book titled, 'You Can! You Will! Cure Your Height Phobia in 10 Easy Days,' in Blaine's briefcase. Blaine tells Sully and he has decided to get a picnic dinner with silver candlestick holders for the train. 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). Sully further orders SNN's front desk security officer, Abigail (Jackie Richardson), to thoroughly search Blaine if he ever returns.

    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.

    Meanwhile, State's Attorney Roy Ridnitz arrives at his campaign headquarters and learns about Christy's interview with Ike Roscoe. He orders Warden Terwillger to cancel the interview. However, Terwillger catches up to Christy, who tells her cameraman to start filming. Terwillger relents and lets them inside the cell block.

    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 Anthony's favorite trick, Ike makes Christy's pen disappear from his hand, then reappear in her pocket. Later, Ike is escorted into his cell and pulls Christy's pen cartridge from his mouth. Outside the prison, Christy walks to the nearby criminal courts building, followed by fellow rival television reporters Zaks (Barry Flatman), Tillinger (Ted Simonett), and Carvalho (Anthony Sherwood).

    Arriving in the newspaper press room at the courthouse, Christy greets newspaper reporters Morosini (Joe Silver), Obregon (Allan Royal), and Jessica (Monica Parker). Ike Roscoe's attorney, Pamela Farbrother (Fiona Reed), arrives at the news office and tells the reporters 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 Ike's interview, but Abigail the security guard stops Blaine, and thoroughly searches him. After giving Sully a heated argument about his 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 news. One of the Governor's aids, Crannock (Grant Cowan), sneaks away and telephones Ridnitz about the pardon. 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 SNN, Sully turns on the television to see if other stations are reporting Christy's interview. However, the first story reported is on the record amount of "no-shows" for flights to New York. Sully receives a call from Ridnitz's associates, informing him that Ike Roscoe will be electrocuted earlier than scheduled, and his execution open to reporters. Blaine arrives, reminding Christy of their train. Christy says goodbye, and leaves with Blaine.

    At the prison, reporters crowd the execution chamber. Before Ike Roscoe is escorted to the chamber, his lawyer, Pamela Farbrother, arrives and kisses him. Afterward, the guards guide her away. 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 as Blaine's limousine passes the jailhouse. She gets out and tells Blaine she will meet him at the 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. When Obregon goes to use the copier, he hears the machine groan. Christy offers to fix it, and unhooks Ike's shirtsleeve caught inside the machine. Just then, 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. Obregon attempts to fix the copier himself. To distract him, Pamela jumps out a room's 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 get the copier out of the courthouse, Sully offers to buy the copier, and Obregon agrees at first. Blaine arrives and Christy convinces him to wait five minutes. Having second thoughts, Obregon asks for the copier back. Instead, Sully offers him a job at SNN in exchange for the copier. After Sully and Christy leave for the elevator, reporters Zaks, Tillinger, and Carvalho conclude that Ike is hiding inside of the copier. 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 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. Christy is shocked, but Sully laughs.

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