Network is a 1976 American satirical film released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and United Artists about a fictional television network, UBS, and its struggle with poor ratings. The film was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. It stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall and features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, and Beatrice Straight.
The film won four Academy Awards, in the categories of Best Actor (Finch), Best Actress (Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Straight), and Best Original Screenplay (Chayefsky).
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 U.S. American entertainment”. In 2006, Chayefsky’s script was voted one of the top-ten screenplays by the Writers Guild of America, East. 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 (Peter Finch), the longtime anchor of the UBS Evening News, learns from news division president Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he has just two more weeks on the air because of declining ratings. The two old friends get roaring 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. In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation, persuading his viewers to shout “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” out of their windows.
Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) heads the network’s programming department; seeking just one hit show, she cuts a deal with a band of radical terrorists (a parody of the Symbionese Liberation Army called the “Ecumenical Liberation Army”) for a new docudrama series called the Mao Tse Tung Hour for the upcoming fall season. When Beale’s ratings seem to have topped out, Christensen approaches Schumacher and offers to help him “develop” the news show. He says no to the professional offer, but not to the personal one, and the two begin an affair. When Schumacher decides to end the “Howard as Angry Man” format, Christensen convinces her boss, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), to slot the evening news show under the entertainment division so that she can develop it. Hackett agrees, bullies the UBS executives to consent, and fires Schumacher at the same time. Soon 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’s and Diana’s romance withers as the show flourishes, but in the flush of high ratings, the two ultimately find their ways back together, and Schumacher leaves his wife of over 25 years for Christensen. But Christensen’s fanatical devotion to her job and emotional emptiness ultimately drive Max back to his wife, and he 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.”
When Beale discovers that 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, encouraging viewers to send telegrams to the White House telling them, “I want the CCA deal stopped now!” This throws the top network brass into a state of panic because the company’s debt load has made merger essential for survival. Hackett takes Beale to meet with CCA chairman Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), who explicates his own “corporate cosmology” to the attentive Beale. Jensen delivers a tirade of his own in an “appropriate setting,” the dramatically darkened CCA boardroom, that suggests to the docile Beale that Jensen may himself be some higher power — describing the interrelatedness of the participants in the international economy, and the illusory nature of nationality distinctions. Jensen persuades Beale to abandon the populist messages and preach his new “evangel”. But television audiences find his new sermons on the dehumanization of society to be depressing, and ratings begin to slide, yet Jensen will not allow UBS executives 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 Ecumenical Liberation Army to assassinate Beale on the air, putting an end to The Howard Beale Show and kicking off a second season of The Mao-Tse Tung Hour.
The film ends with the narrator stating:
This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in these posters: