From Friday April 4, 2008
Directed by Sidney Lumet, written by Paddy Chayefsky, starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall.
It wouldn’t be Pilot Season without the most vicious comedy ever made about the Television business. The News Division has become an albatross around the neck of the floundering UBS Network. The solution devised by network chief Frank Hackett (Duvall) is simple: fire their over-paid anchorman Howard Beale (Finch) at week’s end, and fold the News Division into the Entertainment Division. Complications arise when Beale announces his firing on-air, and says he will commit suicide on live television at the conclusion of his final broadcast.
It’ll finish Wednesday,
AFTER THOUGHT from 7.31.10
The television business in the 1970’s, and to a large extent today, has four seasons. They are not called winter, spring, summer and fall. They are called development, pilot, staffing and hiatus. Development roughly coincides with what the rest of us call fall. As new shows air, some under perform and others flat-out fail, networks begin developing new shows for the fall a year away. Pilot season is when a few hundred scripts are bought out of the thousands of stories that get pitched to network development executives. From those few hundred scripts, a few dozen pilots are shot, all in an effort to decide which stories might make a show on which companies will gamble their advertising budget. A lot of hurry up & wait happens during these two seasons, until sometime (it shifts every year) in what the rest of us know as spring, when each network announces next fall’s schedule and staffing season breaks loose. Many young folks working in their first entertainment job find themselves pulling 70-80 hour weeks during pilot and staffing season. They try to hire the best crew they can before another show steals away the person their show’s entire success hinges upon, and get them all working so at least a few episodes are in the can come … whatever the hell the next season is. Each year in that frenzied pace, we would watch NETWORK to remind us that we did not cause this insanity, it is simply the nature of the beast.
NETWORK is a great movie because it is of its time, ahead of its time, and for all time. Virtually nothing in this movie looks artificial; it feels so New York in the 70’s that when Howard Beale hails a cab, we could expect Travis Bickle to show up. Rather than building a set for the UBS News control room, they went to Toronto to shoot in a real control room. NETWORK is so ahead of its time that, as Bob one of my agent mentors pointed out, it was created as a satire that today plays like drama. Among the current phenomena that NETWORK warned us about in sharply witted barbs: the rise of sensationalism, the muddying of objective and subjective analysis, in our nightly news and television in general, and the decline of the position of journalists to challenge their audiences with facts rather than comforting the audience’s own social and political sensibilities. The conundrum of the UBS board’s duty to shareholders, advertisers and other investors versus responsibility to their audience, existing in radio even before television, now rears its head in the digital media world as some try to figure out how to monetize Twitter tweets to advertise Tatter Tots.
All that aside, if you really want to see what makes NETWORK impressive and vital, take a glance at the IMDB message boards. I challenge you to find another film with so many people whining about characters’ use of — no joke — “big words,” “esoteric words” and “long diatribes.” Sadly there is more than one thread devoted to people clamoring for their perceived right to be entertained without needing to “reach for a thesaurus.” NETWORK is a primal scream against illiteracy and willful ignorance. I did all that I could to bring its message to as many would-be television execs as possible.