By Isaac Furman
Long before the era of 24-hour cable news networks, Oscar-winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky wrote Network, telling the story of a fictional television station called UBS and its news anchor, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who is fired due to poor ratings.
During his final two weeks on air, Beale becomes a raving demagogue. Instead of being cut off instantly, Beale is allowed to pontificate, and his show quickly becomes a smashing success.
The network executives (William Holden and Faye Dunaway) soon begin to debate Howard’s role in the future.
Dunaway’s character, Diana, is a brilliant caricature of TV executives. She is very cold, which makes her perfect for job. Her only goal in life is to receive the largest possible ratings on her shows. Eventually, her argument wins out, and Beale receives his own show.
The film seems to possess the uncanny ability to predict the future of television. Today, our TV screens are filled with talking heads who love to shout their beliefs at the audience. Likewise, Beale would fit right in with contemporary MSNBC, FOX News or CNN. But in 1976, such a news deliverance style did not yet exist.
Furthermore, Howard’s rants about democracy and communism and oil prices don’t seem dated in the slightest.
The United States was in a transitional period when Network was released, and it shows in the film. Chayefsky’s screenplay demonstrates his concern for the direction in which the country was headed.
Television was beginning to permeate all areas of American culture and several characters in the film speak about the danger of a TV-dominated society. For these reasons, Network is not a movie about individuals, but rather a reflection on the nation as a whole.
Any film that is well-written, well-acted, and well-directed is bound to be pretty good. However, what elevates Network from good to great is the timeless nature of it.
It was a groundbreaking movie when it came out thirty-five years ago, and it is still relevant today. Chayefsky is able to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with American culture, but does so in a way that is both funny and engaging.
Overall, Network is a fascinating movie, a must-see for those who lived through the times, as well as the modern college student.