Strange how Howard Beal "the mad prophet of the airwaves," dominates our memories of "Network". We remember him in his soaking-wet raincoat,hair plastered to his forehead,shouting "I'm as mad as hell,and I'm not going to take anymore!" The phrase has entered into the language of our time becoming a catchphrase of our generation. But Beal(Peter Finch) is the movie's sideshow. The story centers on Diana Christensen(Faye Dunaway),the rating-hungry programming executive who is prepared to do anything for better numbers,and is prepared to do anything in her power to make it to the top of the television empire. The mirror to which she plays is Max Schumacher(William Holden),the middle-aged news executive who becomes Diana's victim and lover,in that order. What is fascinating about Paddy Chayfesky's Oscar winning screenplay is how smoothly it shifts gears,from satire to farce to social outrage. The scenes involving Beal and the revolutionary "liberation army" are cheerfully over the top. The scenes involving Max and Diana are quiet,tense,convincing drama. The action at the network executive level aims for behind-the-scenes realism;we may doubt that a Howard Beal could get on the air,but we have no doubt the idea would be discussed as the movie suggests. And then Chayefsky and the director,Sidney Lumet,edge the backstage network material over into satire too-but subtly,so that in the final late-night meeting where the executives decide what to do about Howard Beal,we have entered the madhouse without noticing. "Network" was not only a sensation,but a phenomenon when it came out in 1976. It was Nominated for Five Oscars including Best Picture and it was victorious in winning four for Peter Finch(Best Actor), Faye Dunaway(Best Actress), Beatrice Straight(Best Supporting Actress),and Best Original Screenplay(Paddy Chayefsky) not to mention winning Four Golden Globes that year for Best Actor(Peter Finch), Best Actress(Faye Dunaway), Best Original Screenplay(Paddy Chayefsky),and Best Director(Sidney Lumet). "Network" upon it's release was a huge boxoffice smash becoming one of the top ten films of 1976 behind "Rocky", "The Omen", "All The Presidents Men", "Taxi Driver",and the remake of "A Star Is Born". "Network" stirred up so much debate about the decaying values of television which was unheard of 1976 but relevant today. It was like a prophecy of what was to come. When Chayefsky created the character of Howard Beal, who would have imagine to onslaught of Jerry Springer, Morton Downey, Jr., Geraldo Rivera, Howard Stern, Maury Povich, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ed Schultz, to Montel Williams to anything involving the WWF or the WWE and anything involving "the reality show" craze that has trashed the overall aspect of television today as we know it.
Even so it was sensation when it came out in 1976,but for the most part it is really outdated-most noticeably Howard Beal's first news set to other parts including the network strategy meetings,remain timeless. Not to mention the set that Beal graduates to featuring soothsayers and gossip columnists on revolving pedestals nicely captures the feeling of some of the news/entertainment shows of that time. Most people remember Howard Beal got fed up with the bullshit around him couldn't take it anymore,and had a meltdown while on the air. But it was not quite like that. Beal is portrayed as an alcoholic doing such a bad job that he's fired by his boss(Holden). They get drunk together and joke about him committing suicide on the air(during one the episodes of The Howard Beal Show). The next day, in a farewell broadcast,Beal announces that he will indeed kill himself because of falling ratings. He's yanked from the air but begs a chance to say farewell. Lumet and Chayefsky pull out all the stops here. After Beal orders his viewers to "repeat after me",as they cut to exterior shots of people leaning out of their windows and screaming to the top of their lungs that they're mad as hell too. This is electrifying drama when it came out in 1976. Beal's ratings skyrocket(he is fourth after The Six Million Dollar Man, All In The Family,and Phyllis)and a new set is constructed on which he rants and raves after his announcer literally introduces him as a "mad prophet". Counter to this is the extravagant satire is the affair between Max and Diana. Faye Dunaway's seductive performance is what gives this movie it's glow as the obsessed programming executive;her eyes sparkle and she moistens her lips when she thinks of higher ratings,and in one sequence she kisses Max while telling him how cheaply she can buy James Bond re-runs. Later in bed,discussing ratings during sex,she climaxes while gasping not only about the Mao Tse-tung Hour,but bringing an idea for a lesbian daytime soap opera called "The Dykes" where she discusses the series about a female mistress who has an affair with her husband's wife. Then the idea for a prime-time show based on the exploits of a group obviously inspired by the Symbionese Liberation Army. The one hilarious scene says it all which has a Patty Hearst type character and uses an Angela Davis type as her go-between. Much more interesting is William Holden's performance that keeps the movie riveting from start to finish. Beatrice Straight's role as Max's wife was so powerful and small it won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as a convincing portrayal of a woman who has put up with an impossible man for so long that she feels angry and betrayed after Max cheats on her. The film is full of vivid supporting roles. Ned Beatty has a sharp-edged cameo as a television executive while Robert Duvall(who was Oscar Nominated for Best Supporting Actor) plays an executive who is involved in the goings on in front and behind the scenes while Wesley Addy is the handsome gray-haired executive in the network's display window during behind the scenes and during one of the stockholder meetings. One of the insights to "Network" and as well as Chayefsky's key insights is that the bosses don't much care what you really say on television as long as you don't threaten their profits..