This scabrous newsroom satire became a cult favourite in an era when criticism of mainstream American corporate media was largely the preserve of the Left.
“Network is Lumet’s sole film that presents him in the role of sociological pamphleteer... [expounding his] persistent concern with the forces awaiting our increasing social passivity and abandonment of reason.”
Frank R. Cunningham, Sidney Lumet, 2001
Inspired by a newsreader’s real-life on-air suicide, writer Paddy Chayefsky conceived this stinging rebuke of craven network television. Peter Finch plays Howard Beale, an anchor at the end of his rope, facing oblivion because of poor ratings. A bitter threat to kill himself in front of the cameras spells potential for the more entertainment-minded within the network – notably ambitious producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) – and soon Beale’s rants against modern life are topping the ratings even as they sow the seeds of his demise.
Applying to the media the tone of cynical conspiracy-mindedness characteristic of much American political cinema of the 1970s, Network still makes for bracingly confrontational viewing, its soapier plot elements offset by its fatalism and prescience. They hadn’t seen nothing yet.
The same era’s The Parallax View (1974) and All the President’s Men (1976) also allege nefarious string-pulling in high places. Broadcast News (1987) offers a far gentler take on the milieu.