What a difference a few hundred million at the box office makes. Dreamed up in 2001 by Will Ferrell and his buddy Adam McKay, a former ''Saturday Night Live'' head writer, ''Anchorman'''s script languished for two years. ''Every single studio in town said no to it,'' says McKay, who's making his directorial debut. Ferrell adds: ''We were like, It's not 'Up Close & Personal.' It's not a serious news movie.'' Then came the ex-''SNL'' star's 2003 star-making streak, beginning with ''Old School'' and resounding with the holiday comedy ''Elf,'' and ''all of a sudden, people liked it,'' says Ferrell. Funny how that works.
With DreamWorks' $25 million go-ahead, the duo put together a testosterone-laden ensemble -- ''The Daily Show'''s Steve Carell, improv master David Koechner (''My Boss's Daughter''), and heartthrob Paul Rudd (''Friends'') -- and set to making the story of Ron Burgundy, a mustachioed top dog in the pre-cable, rabbit-eared era circa 1973. Burgundy's charmed life as leader of the hard-living, ass-grabbing Channel 4 News Team is torn apart when the polished, educated, and -- horrors! -- female Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) comes aboard. Sparks, crank calls, and sexist remarks fly.
''This is a time when we didn't have [political correctness],'' says Applegate, who got to revisit the kind of raunchy humor she perfected on ''Married...With Children.'' ''But you sort of forgive the mentality of the people of that era.'' Also on the '70s parody block: fashion (''All the clothes are brown,'' Ferrell chuckles) and smoking, lots of billowing clouds of nicotine. Back then, ''when you heard 'cigarettes,' you didn't think of cancer. You thought of a cowboy,'' says McKay. ''You forget that this wasn't that long ago.'' Fire up those Zippos!
THE GOOD NEWS Will Ferrell.
THE BAD NEWS Things like his ''Tonight! At Eleven!'' shtick could baffle today's 500-channel youth.