R | 2h 1m | Drama | November 27, 1976
In many ways, the 1970s uncannily parallel many of the trials and tribulations of our troubled modern times: An out-of-control globalist military-industrial complex leading the United States into unnecessary warfare, an energy crisis and soaring inflation, polarized political strife and disillusionment, rampant far-left domestic terrorism, international terrorism, and feverish competition between media companies over the masses due to evolving technologies and expanded reach.
Although the players may have changed, the stage is indeed eerily similar.
While greedy, cutthroat corporations may seem a dime a dozen these days, one film not only exposed corporate gluttony in a way never seen before (at that time) but also largely prophesied how these conglomerations of private enterprise would vie for power, at least when it comes to legacy media outlets.
Helmed by celebrated director Sidney Lumet, 1976’s “Network” is more than a scathing satirical take on the network television industry; it’s a prophetic projection into the future and our turbulent current time.
The movie opens with very drunk TV anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) staggering around on the streets of Manhattan with his longtime pal, equally inebriated Max Schumacher (William Holden). Both men work for the fictional TV network UBS (think: ABC, NBC, or CNN).
Bad NewsUnfortunately, Schumacher has just delivered some bad news to his chum. Because of sagging ratings, the network’s higher-ups have decided to terminate Beale. Beale has just two more weeks at UBS and then he’ll have to move on.
At the end of the night, the two bosom buddies find themselves at a dive bar, where Beale announces that he’s going to kill himself. Not only that, but he’ll perform his suicide during one of his live broadcasts on the evening news. Not taking Beale seriously, Schumacher jokingly tells his friend that at least he’ll fetch some great ratings for his on-air suicide.
The next evening, Beale makes good on his promise to off himself by announcing it during his newscast, telling millions of viewers that he’ll commit suicide in one week’s time while live on the air.
In a humorous scene, the show’s production control room staff are so wrapped up in their own petty affairs that they don’t even notice Beale’s announcement, at least initially.
Because of Beale’s peculiar behavior, UBS management quickly moves to fire him instead of waiting for two weeks. However, his loyal friend Schumacher shields his mentally frail friend and makes it so that Beale can go out on his own terms, and in his own time. In turn, Beale tells Schumacher that he’ll calmly set things right during his next broadcast, and announce his leaving the show.
Instead, during his very next show, Beale appears to go totally bonkers. Instead of delivering the evening news, he goes on a diatribe about how many things in the world are fake and full of hogwash. Needless to say, this incenses UBS’s management, led by a corporate hatchetman ironically named Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall).
However, Beale’s rant surprisingly strikes a chord with UBS’s viewership and the network’s ratings explode. Instead of firing Beale, the higher-ups decide to push the increasingly unhinged anchorman into the spotlight.
Meanwhile, the uber-ambitious, recently hired program director Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) shrewdly begins jockeying for more control over UBS’s programming. Her unconventional yet brilliant ideas begin to influence UBS’s higher-ups.
Extreme GreedThis is an outstanding drama that realistically depicts what lengths corporations will go to in order to increase their bottom lines. As this movie shows us, there is no bottom, no ethically compromised depth they will not stoop to in order to achieve their questionable aims.
For example, instead of being concerned for Beale’s obviously deteriorating mental state, UBS pushes for him to be more and more outrageous just so they can keep increasing both their profits and the network’s ratings, much to the dismay of Schumacher, Beale’s one true friend.
The film’s script was written by visionary screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky. Chayefsky had a lot of creative control of this film’s production, and he insisted that its ensemble cast of actors deliver their lines in a highly realistic fashion.
Coupled with Lumet’s brilliant direction, “Network” is both a highly entertaining drama with lots of laugh-out-loud humor and a film that carries some very timely messages, ones that are extremely prescient in modern times.