Apr 9, 2020
Network is a 1976 American satirical drama film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, about a fictional television network, UBS, and its struggle with poor ratings. The film stars Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall and features Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty and Beatrice Straight.
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 2005, the two Writers Guilds of America voted Chayefsky's script one of the 10 greatest screenplays in the history of cinema.[a] 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.
Network came only two years after the first on-screen suicide in television history, of television news reporter Christine Chubbuck in Sarasota, Florida.[dead link] The anchorwoman was suffering from depression and loneliness, was often emotionally distant from her co-workers, and shot herself on camera as stunned viewers watched on July 15, 1974.
Chayefsky used the idea of a live death as his film's focal point, saying later in an interview, "Television will do anything for a rating ... anything!" However, Dave Itzkoff's book Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies disputes that Chayefsky was inspired by the Chubbock case, asserting that Chayefsky actually began writing Network months before Chubbuck's death and already planned for Howard Beale to vow to kill himself on air, and that Chubbuck's suicide was simply an eerie parallel. Sidney Lumet also confirmed that the character of Howard Beale was never based on any real life person. Still, the Chubbuck case is mentioned in Chayefsky's screenplay.
Before beginning his screenplay, Chayefsky visited network TV offices. Sitting in on meetings at CBS and NBC, he noted "the politics, the power struggles, the obsession with ratings." He was also surprised to learn that television executives did not watch much television. "The programs they put on 'had to' be bad," he said, "had to be something they wouldn't watch. Imagine having to work like that all your life."
According to Dave Itzkoff, what Cheyefsky saw while writing the screenplay during the midst of Watergate and the Vietnam war was all the anger of America being broadcast in everything from sitcoms to news reports. He concluded that Americans "don't want jolly, happy family type shows like Eye Witness News" ... "the American people are angry and want angry shows." When he began writing his script he had intended on a comedy, but instead poured his frustration at the broadcasts being shown on television, which he described as "an indestructible and terrifying giant that is stronger than the government" — into the screenplay. It became a "dark satire about an unstable news anchor and a broadcasting company and a viewing public all too happy to follow him over the brink of sanity."
Chayefsky and producer Howard Gottfried 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 this recent lawsuit, Chayefsky and Gottfried signed a deal with UA to finance Network, until 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 afterward, United Artists reversed itself and looked to co-finance the film with MGM, since the latter had an ongoing distribution arrangement with UA in North America. Since MGM agreed to let UA back on board, the former (through United Artists as per the arrangement) controlled North American/Caribbean rights, with UA opting for overseas distribution.