Network (1976), directed by Sidney Lumet, is an eerily accurate satire about the TV news business. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is the anchor for UBS Evening News and is notified by friend and news division president Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he has two more weeks on the air due to low ratings. During the next broadcast, the mentally unstable Beale declares that he will commit suicide on an upcoming broadcast.
Beale immediately gets fired for this declaration, but Schumacher convinces UBS executives to allow Beale to apologize and have a formal farewell. In this final broadcast, Beale has another outburst, in which he complains about the “fallacies” of life. To everyone’s disbelief, Beale’s broadcast rating skyrockets as viewers are attracted to his unfiltered nature.
Diana Christenson (Faye Dunaway) is the programming producer at UBS and convinces executive Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) to give control of Beale’s program to her. A live studio audience and dramatic set is created, where Beale wanders into frame and angrily preaches until he faints.
The film is meant to be a satire about the TV news business, but watching this 40 years later, it is oddly accurate. The focus on ratings and spectacle over objective coverage with wild personalities taking over our screens is ever-present in today’s media.
The screenplay is masterfully written by Paddy Chayefsky. It is unabashedly outrageous at times, but never loses focuses and provides the vehicle for world-class performances. Dunaway and Duvall capture the insanity of their characters, encouraging the unstable Beale to become more wildly for ratings. When the ratings finally dip, and Beale’s outburst leads to problems with the network’s business partners, Christenson and Hackett make a decision that elevates the absurdity. Beale’s final broadcast is sorely memorable.
In one of Beale’s most impactful outbursts that leads to Christenson’s takeover, he yells about the downfall of America and that viewers should be angry about it. He instructs viewers to go to their windows and yell the now famous quote, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Finch’s performance won him the Oscar for Best Actor in 1977, posthumously. Chayefsky was awarded Best Original Screenplay while Dunaway won Best Actress. Beatrice Straight, who played Schumacher’s wife, was also awarded Best Supporting Actress, setting the record for shortest performance to win an acting Oscar with only five minutes of screen time.
With its memorable performances and fantastic screenplay, Network is an absurd look at the television news business and the characters that occupy our screens.