Network (film)

Network is a 1976 New Hollywood drama film about a fictional television network, Union Broadcasting System (UBS), and its struggle with poor ratings. It was written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, and stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.

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.


The story opens with long-time "UBS Evening News" anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) being fired because of the show's low ratings. He has two more weeks on the air, but the following night, Beale announces on live television that he will commit suicide during an upcoming live broadcast.

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.


Cast notes

  • Kathy Cronkite (Walter Cronkite's daughter) appears as kidnapped heiress Mary Ann Gifford.
  • Lance Henriksen has a small uncredited role as a network lawyer at Ahmet Khan's home.
  • Tim Robbins has a small uncredited role as one of Ahmet Kahn's followers.

Critical reception

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.


Academy Awards

Network won three of the four acting awards, tying the record of 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire. Along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Reds and Coming Home, Network is the last film as of 2007 to have received acting nominations in all four categories.


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.


Golden Globes



BAFTA Awards





  • "Yesterday, I announced on this program that I was going to commit public suicide. Admittedly, an act of madness. Well, I'll tell you what happened. I just ran out of bullshit." (Howard Beale to TV audience)
  • "Well, Max, here we are. A middle-aged man, reaffirming his middle-aged manhood, and a terrified young woman with a father complex. What sort of script do you think we can make out of this?" (Diana Christensen to Max Schumacher)
  • "Television is not the truth. Television is a goddamned amusement park." (Beale to TV audience)
  • "We're in the boredom-killing business." (Beale to TV audience)
  • "I'm not sure she's capable of any real feelings. She's television generation. She learned life from Bugs Bunny." (Max describing Diana to his wife, Beatrice)
  • "Good morning, Mr. Beale. They tell me you're a madman." (Network CEO Jensen confronts Beale)
  • "I'm not some guy discussing male menopause on the Barbara Walters show. I'm the man that you presumably love. I'm part of your life. I live here. I'm real. You can't switch to another station." (Max to Diana)
  • "Why is it that a woman always thinks that the most savage thing she can say to a man is to impugn his cocksmanship?" (Max to Diana)
  • "You're television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering. Insensitive to joy. All of life reduced to the common rubble of banality." (Max to Diana)
  • "We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bye-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime." (Network CEO Jensen confronts Beale)
  • "This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings." (Narrator speaking final line)
  • "I don’t have to tell you things are bad, everybody knows things are bad: It’s a depression! Everybody’s out of work, or scared of losing their job; the dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust; shop-keepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street; nobody anywhere seems to know what to do and there’s no end to it! We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. We sit watching our TVs whilst some local newscaster tells us that “today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes” as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be! We know things are bad, worse than bad: they’re crazy! It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore! We sit in the house and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller and all we say is “please, at least leave us alone in our living-rooms - let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything! Just leave us alone!” Well I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest, I don’t want you to riot, I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write, I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street – all I know is that first you’ve got to get mad! You’ve got to say “I’m a human being goddammit! My life has value!” So, I want you to get up now, I want all of you to get up out of your chairs! I want you to get up right now, and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!" (Beale on air)

Production and transfer of rights

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.

The film premiered in New York City on November 27, 1976, with a wide release following shortly afterward.

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.


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