What kind of person turned TV news into shit? Faye Dunaway won an Oscar for playing Diana Christensen, a network exec who talks business while she fucks because it gets her to a quick climax. When the nightly news anchor goes literally insane on live TV, his ratings skyrocket and Christensen hatches a scheme: Turn the news into an entertainment show. Network (1976) fictionalizes popular journalism’s turn from tasty medicine into tastier poison. How huge would Christensen have orgasmed if she’d known that one day whole news networks would run nothing but ratings bait for 24 hours a day?
People generally prioritize entertainment above knowing what’s going on. The consequence (so far) is rampant corruption, and America’s next president could be a celebrity con man who openly despises hard news. This is profoundly important because a functioning democracy needs aggressive journalism (ask Jefferson)… and we need our souls. Howard Beale tells his viewers they’re “humanoids” – creatures who look human, but aren’t. “You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you!” He wildly begs his audience to turn off their TVs, then he faints. Applause. Commercial.
Sinister forces are rising. A mega-corporation buys the network, and Beale proclaims “When the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome God-damned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network?”
Beale’s rants, and his meeting with a demonic mogul who explains the world in cynical and completely believable terms, are what makes this film famous, but it’s ultimately about humanity, and love. Max Schumacher, Beale’s boss and best friend, falls hard for Christensen. He leaves his wife for her, but ultimately realizes his mistake. “You’re one of Howard’s humanoids,” Max says. “If I stay with you, I’ll be destroyed… like everything you and the institute of television touch is destroyed.” Max saves himself by walking away.
Beale calls himself “an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisy of our times.” Paddy Chayefsky, Network’s writer, was the prophet. We are the humanoids.