Network (1976)

Read the script
Extract from Network (PDF).

Sidney Lumet’s satire on the media proph­esied our current culture of ‘reality’ game-show tv with uncanny accuracy decades before it arrived – and won four Oscars in the process; including one for the savage and blackly comic script by Paddy Chayefsky.

A news anchorman, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), is fired by his network and threatens to kill himself live on tv. Ratings go through the roof and the network conceives a way to capit­alise on the phenomenon by inventing a new kind of tele­vi­sion. A ruth­lessly ambi­tious young tv producer, Diane Christensen (Faye Dunaway), is brought on board but she becomes involved in an unlikely affair with an older newsman, Max Schu­macher (William Holden).

Sidney Lumet talks about Network


The scene shown in the clip here has a simple outcome: the break-up of an affair. The skill of the writer, however, makes the progress towards that outcome some­thing that happens on more than one level and with many shifts in the ‘balance of power’ between the characters.

On a personal level, the conflict occurs because of their differ­ences in age, tempera­ment and nature. She is younger, more driven and neur­otic than him. He is still affected by the guilt he feels from deserting his wife and chil­dren. He protects and distances himself from emotion by ironic self-references to movies; whilst she uses blunt­ness to achieve the same objective.

But these are also char­ac­ters with huge ideo­lo­gical differ­ences too. He believes the media must have respons­ib­ility, hold onto the ideals of integ­rity and truth. These are essen­tially old fash­ioned and outdated values, and he knows it, but the passionate speech Chayefsky puts into the character’s mouth is a fierce and artic­u­late rejec­tion of all the things that Diane stands for: the soul­less­ness to which modern tele­vi­sion is succumbing, and the “madness incarnate” that she person­i­fies. It is a moment when the writer allows himself and the char­acter to be given full power over the scene.

It wouldn’t work however if we hadn’t already seen the other char­acter sublim­in­ally accept the truth behind it. The tell-tale shaking hand in the kitchen is a memor­able moment in the film. It graph­ic­ally shows the inner strain that Diane is under, despite her outward aggressive bravado.

David Clough October 2010

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