With Reporter/Commentator Tim Watts
Network: How A Movie Indicted Television
What Chayefsky and “Network” accurately predicted was the corporate news lowering itself to entertainment
Network was a phenomenal success as a movie. It was a brilliant piece of satire and a scathing indictment of corporate television. The film resonated with people on many levels; revealing television for what it is, a propaganda mechanism to help ensure our own enslavement and oppression. It also revealed to people their own fallibility of overly trusting the media to work in our best interests and to always tell us the truth. The film was a huge reality check for many people. It also very much accurately predicted news programs becoming entertainment shows.
It created one of the most iconic movie lines ever delivered on the silver screen... "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."
Longtime UBS Evening News network anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch), has been given his two-weeks notice because of declining ratings. The next night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide on next Tuesday’s broadcast. He is immediately fired, but his longtime friend Max Schumacher is the head of the news division and despite protests from corporate, he allows Howard to have a final farewell on-air, to apologize and set the record straight.
Once he gets on-air, he apologizes, and says he just ran out of bullshit. Then he goes into a new a rant claiming that life is “bullshit.” Beale's message strikes a chord with his audience and the network's ratings immediately shoot up. The struggling network decides to exploit Howard's newfound celebrity for the ratings revenue. In a sad twist of irony, Beale ends up becoming exactly what he ranted against most... a TV circus for the masses.
Beale then delivers his hallmark speech to his viewers... inspiring them to shout their disgust with the system by opening their windows and yelling out loud... “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” This moves the network to create a new TV show, called The Howard Beale Show. Beale is billed as “the mad prophet of the airwaves” and the show quickly becomes the number one show on television. He finds instant celebrity preaching an angry message of discontent before a live studio audience that opens his show by screaming out loud in unison, “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore.”
Howard even goes so far as to rail against his own company, CCA, the Communications Corporation of America. After learning that CCA is to be bought by Saudi Arabian interests, Beale starts a nationwide campaign to stop the foreign purchase of a US network, something which was originally prohibited by the FCC. In later years, foreigner Rupert Murdoch and NewsCorp found a loophole and did an end around the system, and the FOX network was born.
But back to Network... because of Howard's incitement of the public, the deal falls through. Company President Frank Hackett wants Beale fired and takes him to meet with CCA chairman Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty). Beale is then taken to a darkened boardroom whereupon Jensen unleashes a verbal tirade and proceeds to lambaste Beale as a foolish dreamer, still living in a false world of nations. He indoctrinates Beale with his fascist brand of corporate ideology, laying out his vision of the world as a "business."
Jensen then persuades Beale to abandon his activist messages and instead asks him to "evangelize" the merits of corporatism. Jensen's vision of corporatism sounds eerily like the illicit new world order plan, and Beale's audience soon falls away, finding his new rants on the dehumanization of society to be depressing. The ratings fall, but CEO Jensen will not allow his UBS executives to fire Beale. He wants him to continue with his message of corporatism and a new America.
Part of the brilliance of the movie is that it highlights the irony of Beale's media cult-like status, and his role in manipulating the general populace. Despite the fact that Beale rants about the loss of individualism in the US, his audience still sits there and takes it all in like mesmerized zombies, who are just there for the show.
The character Diane Christensen, played by Faye Dunaway, is a young overly ambitious TV executive, who doesn’t really care or believe in what Howard is saying. All she cares about is that his frenzied message delivers her and UBS a large audience.
Howard's only real supporter is his longtime friend Max Schumacher (William Holden), who is totally outraged that the network is exploiting his good friend while he is in the midst of a mental breakdown.
In one of the subplots of the movie, Schumacher temporarily leaves his wife to have an affair with Christensen (Faye Dunaway). As the affair is breaking up, Schumacker delivers more metaphor and analogy by telling the overly driven Christensen, that she will self-destruct on the path she is on. He tells her, “You are television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality.”
Beale was warning people about having fear used against them, but in the end, it was his own paranoid fear that did him in. He became a man who, like his triumphant chant used to rail, "just couldn't take it anymore"... and he slipped off the edge of reality into wild senility.
"You're beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. In God's name You people are the real thing. We are the illusion!"
"So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off."
"You people sit there day after day, night after night,
all ages, colors, creeds. We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here!"