Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sidney Lumet|
|Produced by||Howard Gottfried|
Fred C. Caruso
|Written by||Paddy Chayefsky|
|Narrated by||Lee Richardson|
|Music by||Elliot Lawrence|
|Edited by||Alan Heim|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$23.7 million|
Network is a 1976 American satirical drama film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, about a fictional television network, UBS, and its struggle with poor ratings. The film stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall and features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, and Beatrice Straight.
In 2000, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2002, it was inducted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame as a film that has "set an enduring standard for American entertainment". In 2005, the two Writers Guilds of America voted Chayefsky's script one of the 10 greatest screenplays in the history of cinema. In 2007, the film was 64th among the 100 greatest American films as chosen by the American Film Institute, a ranking slightly higher than the one AFI had given it ten years earlier.
Howard Beale, the longtime anchor of the Union Broadcasting System's UBS Evening News, learns from friend and news division president Max Schumacher that he has just two more weeks on the air because of declining ratings. The two get drunk and lament the state of their industry. The following night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday's broadcast. UBS fires him after this incident, but Schumacher intervenes so that Beale can have a dignified farewell. Beale promises he will apologize for his outburst, but once on the air, he launches back into a rant claiming that life is "bullshit." Beale's outburst causes the newscast's ratings to spike, and much to Schumacher's dismay, the upper echelons of UBS decide to exploit Beale's antics rather than pull him off the air. When Beale's ratings seem to have topped out, Diana Christensen, who heads the network's programming department, approaches Schumacher and offers to help him "develop" the news show. He says no to the professional offer, but she also makes a personal offer and the two begin an affair.
Christensen, seeking just one hit show, cuts a deal with a band of terrorists called the Ecumenical Liberation Army for a new docudrama series called The Mao Tse-Tung Hour for the upcoming fall season. When Schumacher decides to end Beale's "angry man" format, Christensen convinces her boss, Frank Hackett, to slot the evening news show under the entertainment programming division so she can develop it. Hackett agrees, bullying the UBS executives to consent and fire Schumacher. In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation, persuading his viewers to shout out of their windows "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Soon afterward, Beale is hosting a new program called The Howard Beale Show, top-billed as "the mad prophet of the airwaves". Ultimately, the show becomes the most highly rated program on television, and Beale finds new celebrity preaching his angry message in front of a live studio audience that, on cue, chants Beale's signature catchphrase en masse: "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore." At first, Max and Diana's romance withers as the show flourishes, but in the flush of high ratings, the two ultimately find their way back together, and Schumacher leaves his wife of over 25 years for Christensen.
When Beale discovers that Communications Corporation of America (CCA), the conglomerate that owns UBS, will be bought out by an even larger Saudi Arabian conglomerate, he launches an on-screen tirade against the deal and urges viewers to pressure the White House to stop it. This panics the top network brass because UBS's debt load has made the merger essential for its survival. Hackett takes Beale to meet with CCA chairman Arthur Jensen, who explicates his own "corporate cosmology" to Beale, describing the inter-relatedness of the participants in the international economy and the illusory nature of nationality distinctions. Christensen's fanatical devotion to her job and emotional emptiness ultimately drive away Schumacher, who warns his former lover that she will self-destruct at the pace she is running with her career. "You are television incarnate, Diana," he tells her, "indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality." Jensen persuades Beale to abandon his populist message and preach his new "evangel". However, ratings slide as audiences find his new sermons on the dehumanization of society depressing, yet Jensen will not allow UBS to fire Beale. Seeing its two-for-the-price-of-one value--solving the Beale problem plus sparking a boost in season-opener ratings--Christensen, Hackett, and the other executives decide to hire the ELA to assassinate Beale on the air. The assassination succeeds, putting an end to The Howard Beale Show and kicking off a second season of The Mao Tse-Tung Hour.
As Beale lies bleeding on the set, a camera swings over the body in a crane shot -- the tight depth of field of this final shot results in the camera apparently running over the corpse. We then cut to four television screens, three displaying news reports covering Beale's death, and the bottom-left displaying a contemporary commercial. The overlapping audio creates an unintelligible cacophony. Each news report plays out, two cutting to a different commercial, while the bottom-left screen replays Beale's death in slow-motion. The screens momentarily freeze, and a voiceover proclaims the film "the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings." All of the screens fade to black, except for a still-frame of the murder. The overlapping audio slowly resolves throughout the credits, finally ending in a sound effect of a single news teletype.
Network came only two years after the first on-screen suicide in television history, of television news reporter Christine Chubbuck in Sarasota, Florida. [dead link] The anchorwoman was suffering from depression and loneliness, was often emotionally distant from her co-workers, and shot herself on camera as stunned viewers watched on July 15, 1974.
Chayefsky used the idea of a live death as his film's focal point, saying later in an interview, "Television will do anything for a rating ... anything!" However, Dave Itzkoff's book Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies disputes that Chayefsky was inspired by the Chubbock case, asserting that Chayefsky actually began writing Network months before Chubbuck's death and already planned for Howard Beale to vow to kill himself on air, and that Chubbuck's suicide was simply an eerie parallel.  Sidney Lumet also confirmed that the character of Howard Beale was never based on any real life person. 
Before beginning his screenplay, Chayefsky visited network TV offices. Sitting in on meetings at CBS and NBC, he noted "the politics, the power struggles, the obsession with ratings." He was also surprised to learn that television executives did not watch much television. "The programs they put on 'had to' be bad," he said, "had to be something they wouldn't watch. Imagine having to work like that all your life."
According to Dave Itzkoff, what Cheyefsky saw while writing the screenplay during the midst of Watergate and the Vietnam war was all the anger of America being broadcast in everything from sitcoms to news reports. He concluded that Americans "don't want jolly, happy family type shows like Eye Witness News" ... "the American people are angry and want angry shows." When he began writing his script he had intended on a comedy, but instead poured his frustration at the broadcasts being shown on television, which he described as "an indestructible and terrifying giant that is stronger than the government" -- into the screenplay. It became a "dark satire about an unstable news anchor and a broadcasting company and a viewing public all too happy to follow him over the brink of sanity."
Chayefsky and producer Howard Gottfried had just come off a lawsuit against United Artists, challenging the studio's right to lease their previous film, The Hospital, to ABC in a package with a less successful film. Despite this recent lawsuit, Chayefsky and Gottfried signed a deal with UA to finance Network, until UA found the subject matter too controversial and backed out.
Undeterred, Chayefsky and Gottfried shopped the script around to other studios, and eventually found an interested party in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Soon afterward, United Artists reversed itself and looked to co-finance the film with MGM, since the latter had an ongoing distribution arrangement with UA in North America. Since MGM agreed to let UA back on board, the former (through United Artists as per the arrangement) controlled North American/Caribbean rights, with UA opting for overseas distribution.
In his notes, Chayefsky jotted down his ideas about casting. For Howard Beale, who would eventually be played by Peter Finch, he envisioned Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Paul Newman. He went so far as to write Newman, telling him that "You and a very small handful of other actors are the only ones I can think of with the range for this part." Lumet wanted Fonda, with whom he had worked several times, but Fonda declined the role, finding it too "hysterical" for his taste. Stewart also found the script unsuitable, objecting to the strong language. Early consideration was given to real-life newscasters Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor, but neither was open to the idea. Although not mentioned in Chayefsky's notes, George C. Scott, Glenn Ford and William Holden reportedly also turned down the opportunity to play Beale, with Holden instead playing Max Schumacher: For that role, Chayefsky had initially listed Walter Matthau and Gene Hackman. Ford was under consideration for this part as well, and was said to be one of two final contenders. Holden finally got the edge because of his recent box-office success with The Towering Inferno.
The movie's producers were wary that Finch, born in England and raised partly in Australia, would be able to sound like an authentic American; they demanded an audition before his casting could be considered. Finch, an actor of considerable prominence, reportedly responded, "Bugger pride. Put the script in the mail." Immediately realizing that the role was a plum, he even agreed to pay his own fare to New York for a screen test. He prepared for the audition by listening to hours of broadcasts by American newscasters, and by weeks of reading the international editions of The New York Times and the Herald Tribune into a tape recording, then listening to playbacks with a critical ear. Gottfried recalled that Finch "was nervous as hell at that first meeting over lunch and just like a kid auditioning. Once we'd heard him, Sidney Lumet, Paddy, and I were ecstatic because we knew it was a hell of a part to cast." Finch cinched the deal with Lumet by playing him the tapes of his newspaper readings.
For the role of Diana Christensen, Chayefsky thought of Candice Bergen, Ellen Burstyn, and Natalie Wood, while the studio suggested Jane Fonda, with Kay Lenz, Diane Keaton, Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh. Lumet wanted to cast Vanessa Redgrave in the film, but Chayefsky didn't want her. Lumet argued that he thought she was the greatest English-speaking actress in the world, while Chayefsky, a proud Jew and supporter of Israel, objected on the basis of her support of the PLO. Lumet, also a Jew, said "Paddy, that's blacklisting!", to which Chayefsky replied, "Not when a Jew does it to a Gentile."
Dunaway was cast as Diana in September 1975. Lumet told her that he would edit any attempts on her part to make her character sympathetic and insisted on playing her without any vulnerability.
Ned Beatty was cast as Arthur Jensen on the recommendation of director Robert Altman after the original actor failed to live up to Lumet's standards. Beatty had one night to prepare a four-page speech, and was finished after one day's shooting.
Straight had won a Tony Award in 1953 for playing an anguished wife who similarly is cheated upon in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.
After two weeks of rehearsals, filming started in Toronto in January 1976.
Lumet recalled that Chayefsky was usually on the set during filming, and sometimes offered advice about how certain scenes should be played. Lumet allowed that his old friend had the better comic instincts of the two, but when it came to the domestic confrontation between Holden and Straight, the four-times-married director had the upper hand: "Paddy, please, I know more about divorce than you!"
Finch, who had suffered from heart problems for many years, became physically and psychologically exhausted by the demands of playing Beale.
There was some concern that the combination of Holden and Dunaway might create conflict on the set, since the two had sparred during an earlier co-starring stint in The Towering Inferno. According to Holden biographer Bob Thomas, Holden had been incensed with Dunaway's behavior during the filming of the disaster epic, especially her habit of leaving him fuming on the set while she attended to her hair, makeup and telephone calls. One day, after a two-hour wait, Holden reportedly grabbed his costar by the shoulders, pushed her against a soundstage wall and snapped, "You do that to me once more, and I'll push you through that wall!"
Lumet and cinematographer Owen Roizman worked out a complicated lighting scheme that in Lumet's words would "corrupt the camera". Lumet recalled: "we started with an almost naturalistic look. For the first scene between Peter Finch and Bill Holden, on Sixth Avenue at night, we added only enough light to get an exposure. As the movie progressed, camera setups became more rigid, more formal. The lighting became more and more artificial. The next-to-final scene -- where Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and the three network gray suits decide to kill Peter Finch -- is lit like a commercial. The camera setups are static and framed like still pictures. The camera had also become a victim of television."
Network opened to acclaim from critics, and became one of the big hits of 1976-77. Vincent Canby, in his November 1976 review of the film for The New York Times, called the film "outrageous ... brilliantly, cruelly funny, a topical American comedy that confirms Paddy Chayefsky's position as a major new American satirist" and a film whose "wickedly distorted views of the way television looks, sounds, and, indeed, is, are the satirist's cardiogram of the hidden heart, not just of television but also of the society that supports it and is, in turn, supported."Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four stars out of four, calling it "a very funny movie that takes an easy target and giddily beats it to death."Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times put the film on his list of the 10 best of the year.
In a review of the film written after it received its Academy Awards, Roger Ebert called it a "supremely well-acted, intelligent film that tries for too much, that attacks not only television but also most of the other ills of the 1970s," though "what it does accomplish is done so well, is seen so sharply, is presented so unforgivingly, that Network will outlive a lot of tidier movies." Seen a quarter-century later, Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list and said the film was "like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and the World Wrestling Federation?"; he credits Lumet and Chayefsky for knowing "just when to pull out all the stops."
Not all reviews were positive: Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, in a review subtitled "Hot Air", criticized the film's abundance of long, preachy speeches; Chayefsky's self-righteous contempt for not only television itself but also television viewers; and the fact that almost everyone in the movie, particularly Robert Duvall, has a screaming rant: "The cast of this messianic farce takes turns yelling at us soulless masses." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post declared that "the movie is too sternly, monotonously preachy for either persuasion or casual amusement."Michael Billington wrote, "Too much of this film has the hectoring stridency of tabloid headlines", while Chris Petit in Time Out described it as "slick, 'adult', self-congratulatory, and almost entirely hollow", adding that "most of the interest comes in watching such a lavishly mounted vehicle leaving the rails so spectacularly."
Network currently holds a 92% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 61 reviews, with an average rating of 8.38/10. The consensus states, "Driven by populist fury and elevated by strong direction, powerful acting, and an intelligent script, Networks searing satire of ratings-driven news remains sadly relevant more than four decades later."
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote that "no predictor of the future--not even Orwell--has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network." The film ranks at number 100 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.
The film's noted line "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore" and its derivatives are referenced in numerous films and other media, including Mad As Hell, a satirical Australian news show starring Shaun Micallef. In Better Call Saul's first episode "Uno", Saul Goodman quotes part of Jensen's eviscerating diatribe when he is lambasting the board of his former law firm, then tells his confused audience that his quote came from Network. The same camera angle is employed in both instances.
Peter Finch's "Mad as Hell" monologue is sampled in the 2009 track "Recession" by Dutch hardstyle artist The Prophet. This monologue is also sampled in the song "Lullaby" by Scottish singer/songwriter Gerry Cinnamon on his debut album Erratic Cinematic and on the post-rock group Maybeshewill's song, Not for Want of Trying, on their album of the same name.
The English speaking French rap duo Chill Bump use Howard Beale's iconic rant as the intro to their award-winning song Life Has Value from their 2012 release Hidden Strings.
In the first episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a character's on-air breakdown is compared to that of Beale by news reporters.
A stage adaptation by Lee Hall premiered in the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre in London in November 2017. The play was directed by Ivo Van Hove featuring Bryan Cranston making his UK stage debut as Howard Beale, and Michelle Dockery as Diana. It opened on Broadway on December 6, 2018, with Cranston reprising his role as Beale, and with Tatiana Maslany as Diana and Tony Goldwyn as Max Schumacher.
Network won three of the four acting awards. Only one other film, A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951, has won in three acting categories.
Finch died before the 1977 ceremony and was the only performer to win a posthumous Academy Award until Heath Ledger won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2009. The statuette itself was collected by Finch's widow, Eletha Finch.
Straight's performance as Louise Schumacher occupied only five minutes and two seconds of screen time, making it the shortest performance to win an Oscar (as of 2018), breaking Gloria Grahame's nine minutes and 32 seconds screen time record for The Bad and the Beautiful in 1953.