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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Network

Starring: Faye Dunaway, William Holden
Director: Sidney Lumet
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: January 1976
Genres: Classic, Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight, Wesley Addy, Darryl Hickman, Ken Kercheval

Review by Walter Frith
No Rating Supplied

Uggh, tabloid t.v. Catering to the lowest common denominator. That's nothing new. Before the trashy antics of these sleaze profiteers there were other, more innocuous attempts to get people hooked on boob tube entertainment of a low class nature. 'The Gong Show' perhaps? The 'Unknown Comic', 'Gene, Gene, the dancing machine' and that curly haired host were all bad enough but 20 years ago who would have thought that during a television talk show, fights would break out. Now it seems that during fights on these shows, audiences keep waiting for a talk show to break out. When Geraldo had his nose broken some years ago, many thought that sort of thing was the exception rather than the rule and while few people get injured on these shows, at least what the audience sees first hand, I truly believe that these scenarios are REAL! Perhaps not all the time, but surely the famous incident involving the murder of a young man by another man as an alleged result of appearing on one of these shows, makes you wonder how much is staged and how much is indeed real. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, there was an incident a couple of years ago where a certain trash talk show had people on stage waiting to meet their secret admirers. Each person greeted a member of the opposite sex except one, a man, who had another man admit he had a crush on him, causing him great embarrassment. You can guess the rest.

In 1976, when the film 'Network' came out, it was about a fourth place network, UBS, and ABC, NBC, and CBS all finishing ahead of it in the ratings each week. Desperate to get ratings and offset huge annual financial losses, they luck into something. A washed up television anchor man named Howard Beale (Peter Finch, in his Oscar winning role as Best Actor), has his employment terminated because of low ratings and announces during a live broadcast that he will commit suicide on live television in the near future before he leaves for good. Causing panic among the executives watching, they remove him by force and after some thought, Beale convinces another executive and his best friend, Max Schumacher (William Holden), to put him back on to rectify the embarrassing statement. Given this opportunity, he causes more embarrassment for the network by using the word "bull****" and the ratings jump 5 points during that broadcast. Taking advantage of this situation, a ruthless female executive named Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway in her Oscar winning role as Best Actress), convinces her boss in charge of programming, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) to put Howard Beale back on the air and keep him on despite the irresponsible nature of his content and the shocking nature of his messages. He agrees and thus 'The Howard Beale Show' is born. He is described and an 'angry prophet, denouncing the hypocrisies of our time'. His show influences the network to include other tabloid segments and this shocking new brand of television causes a fury among angry broadcast regulators and government officials who want the show stopped.

Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, who won his third Oscar for the scathing script of 'Network' was a true genius way ahead of his time. He predicted back then that television standards would get lower and lower and they most definitely have. In addition to tabloid talk shows, people have to contend with sitcoms that all look the same, recycled from ideas of the past without a clue in proper execution or hint of original thought. '3rd Rock from the Sun'/'Mork and Mindy', 'Frasier'/'Cheers'. Even highly charged dramas such as 'ER' and 'NYPD Blue' bring up memories of 'St. Elsewhere' and 'Hill Street Blues'. Chayefsky's observations of television programming are not cynical, just the thoughts of a realist. For all of you doubting Thomas' out there, ask yourself why many shows debut in the fall while only two or three survive after the first year.

Misery loves company and the high ratings enjoyed by tabloid trash television shows are in large part, a reflection of people with similar lives.

Nominated for 10 Oscars in 1976, including Best Picture and Best Director (Sidney Lumet), 'Network', as I mentioned, won Best Actor and Actress Oscars for Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway. Finch died before the awards were given out and received his award posthumously. In addition to the acting awards won by Finch and Dunaway, Beatrice Straight won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Max Schumacher's tortured wife living with the reality that her husband is in love with and is having an affair with another woman. Straight's performance is an example of why the Supporting acting categories were created. She only appears in a couple of scenes but they are brimming with talent and a convincing portrayal of her character. The most unique performance in 'Network' comes from Ned Beatty who plays the top executive in the television company who delivers his philosophy of the corporate world like a television evangelist. He received a Best Supporting Actor nomination and finally, William Holden was nominated along side Finch for Best Actor. Not many films get the distinction of having five cast members nominated for Oscars, and as of 1997, 'Network' and 1951's 'A Streetcar Named Desire' remain the only two films to receive three Academy Awards for acting.

Copyright 1999 Walter Frith

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