WASHINGTON - While Dorothy's ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" are prize artifacts at the Smithsonian, Ron Burgundy's burgundy "Anchorman" suit might turn out to be the most popular item at the Newseum.
The museum about news and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has opened "Anchorman: The Exhibit," featuring costumes and props from Will Ferrell's 2004 movie "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." The story of a fictional news team's sexist reaction to the arrival of an ambitious female reporter was a parody of real tumult in the 1970s TV business.
For the exhibition created with Paramount Pictures, Newseum curators paired more than 60 costumes and props from the movie with real stories about TV news and the struggle for women to achieve equality in the newsroom.
"In any parody, there's a kernel of truth, right?" said Cathy Trost, the Newseum's vice president of exhibits. "There really was a time in news history when men owned the anchor chair and women were a novelty in the newsroom. The movie gets that right, though in a very over-the-top way, and we wanted to show the reality behind the humor."
In addition to Burgundy's suit, displayed in a revolving case, the museum also exhibits his flute, mustache brush and a reporter's "Sex Panther" cologne. Costumes in the exhibit include those worn by Veronica Corningstone, the ambitious reporter played by Christina Applegate. There's also a replica of the "Anchorman" news desk.
For each detail from the movie, there's also a dose of reality. The Newseum pulled together stories of women who broke down barriers in television, including a Kansas City news anchor who sued her station after she was demoted for being "too old" and "too unattractive." In 1972, only 11 percent of U.S. news anchors were women.
That began to change, though, with the advent of the "Eyewitness News" format pioneered by WABC-TV in New York City and many others. The format opened doors for women and minorities in TV as stations used news teams and marketing gimmicks to win over viewers by presenting one big happy family on air.
"News teams replaced anchors and became more like the communities they covered," Trost said.
Ads promoted news shows with such slogans as "Eyewitness News: People like us because we like us." Curators pulled together clips and marketing reels from local TV history. In San Francisco, one news team dressed up like cowboys in a Western to showcase their folksy charm.
The pop culture phenomenon of TV news has been parodied by "Saturday Night Live," `'Murphy Brown," `'The Simpsons," and other shows, and that's captured in the exhibit as well.
The exhibit coincides with the release of the sequel "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," which opens in theaters in December. On Dec. 17, the Newseum will open a new section with costumes and props from the newest movie.
"Anchorman: The Exhibit" will be on view in Washington, D.C., through August 2014.
Curator Carrie Christoffersen said the movie partnership will give visitors a good mix of serious and light-hearted stories about the news. She said she hadn't yet considered whether the museum should acquire any of the Ron Burgundy artifacts for its permanent collection.
"Maybe our ruby slippers are Ron Burgundy's suit," she said. "I don't know. We'll have to see."