Network has continued to receive recognition, decades after its initial release. 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 2006, Chayefsky's script was voted one of the top ten movie scripts of all-time by the Writers Guild of America, East. In 2007, the film was 64th among the Top 100 Greatest American Films as chosen by the American Film Institute, a ranking slightly higher than the one AFI gave it ten years earlier.
UBS immediately fires him after this incident, but they let him back on the air, ostensibly for a dignified farewell, with persuasion from Beale's producer and best friend, Max Schumacher (William Holden), the network's old guard news editor. Beale promises that he will apologize for his outburst, but instead rants about how life is "bullshit." While there are serious repercussions, the program's ratings skyrocket and, much to Schumacher's dismay, the upper echelons of UBS decide to exploit Beale's antics rather than pulling him off the air.
In one impassioned diatribe, Beale galvanizes the nation with his rant, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" and persuades Americans to shout out their windows during a spectacular lightning storm. Soon Beale is hosting a new program called The Howard Beale Show, top-billed as a "mad prophet of the airways." Ultimately, the show becomes the highest rated (Duvall's character calls it "a big fat, ... big-titted hit!") program on television, and Beale finds new celebrity preaching his angry message in front of a live audience that, on cue, repeats the Beale's marketed catchphrase en masse. His new set is lit by blue spotlights and an enormous stained-glass window, supplemented with segments featuring astrology, gossip, opinion polls, and yellow journalism.
Parallel to the story of Beale is the tale of the rise within UBS of Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). Beginning as a producer of entertainment programming, Diana acquires footage of terrorists (a parody of the Symbionese Liberation Army) robbing banks for a new television series, charms other executives, and ends up controlling a merged news and entertainment division. To advance this, Christensen has an affair with the long-married Schumacher, but remains obsessed with the success of the network, even in bed.
Upon discovering that the conglomerate that owns UBS will be bought out by an even larger Saudi Arabian conglomerate, Beale launches an on-screen tirade against the two corporations, encouraging the audience to telegram the White House with the message, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more" in the hopes of stopping the merger. Beale is then taken to meet with Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), chairman of the company which owns UBS, who explicates his own "corporate cosmology" to the now nearly delusional Beale. Jensen delivers a lecture - almost a sermon - beginning by declaring to Beale, "You have meddled in the primal forces of nature" before describing the interrelatedness of the participants in the international economy, and the illusory nature of nationality distinctions. Jensen ultimately persuades Beale to abandon his populist messages. However, audiences find his new views on the dehumanization of society to be depressing, and ratings begin to slide.
Although Beale's ratings plummet, the chairman will not allow executives to fire Beale as he spreads the new gospel. Obsessed as ever with UBS' ratings, Christensen arranges for Beale's on-air murder by the same group of urban terrorists who she discovered earlier and who now have their own UBS show, "The Mao-Tse Tung Hour," a dynamite addition to the new fall line-up. This mirrors a drunken and sardonic conversation between Beale and Schumacher at the start of the film, that they should have a show featuring suicides and assassinations.
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.
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 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.
Finch died before the Academy Awards ceremony was held, and as of 2008 is the only performer ever to receive his award posthumously. Straight's performance as the wife of Holden's character featured only five minutes and 40 seconds of screen time, making it the shortest performance to win an Oscar as of 2008.
The script was written by Paddy Chayefsky, and the producer was Howard Gottfried. The two 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 recently settling this lawsuit, Chayefsky and Gottfried agreed to allow UA to finance the film. But after reading the script, 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 afterwards UA reversed itself and looked to co-finance the film with MGM, who for the past several years had distributed through UA in the US. MGM agreed to let UA back on board, and gave them the international distribution rights, with MGM controlling North American rights.
In 1980, UA's then-parent, Transamerica Corporation, put the studio up for sale following the disastrous release of Heaven's Gate, which was a major financial flop and public relations nightmare. Transamerica had become very nervous about the film industry as a result. The next year MGM purchased UA, and consequently gained UA's international rights to Network.
Then, in 1986, media mogul Ted Turner purchased MGM/UA. Without any financial backers, Turner soon fell into debt and sold back most of MGM, but kept the library for his own company, Turner Entertainment - this included the US rights to Network, but international rights remained with MGM, who retained the UA library (or, at least UA's own releases from 1952 onward, plus a few pre-1952 features, as other libraries which had been acquired by UA - such as the pre-1948 Warner Bros. library - were retained by Turner). Turner soon made a deal with MGM's video division for home distribution of most of Turner's library, allowing MGM to retain US video rights to Network for 13 more years.
In 1996, Turner merged with Time Warner. Consequently, WB assumed TV and theatrical distribution rights to the Turner library, with video rights being added in 1999.
Today, WB/Turner owns US rights to Network, while international rights are with MGM - which was recently bought by a consortium led by Sony & Comcast . MGM has also assigned international video distribution rights to 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.