Network: Special Edition
After receiving his two weeks' notice from the network brass, UBS' veteran TV news anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) announces to his national audience that he will kill himself in one week's time, live on the nightly news. After his declaration of suicide, ratings for the struggling "fourth network" skyrocket. The unstable Beale is encouraged to continue his disillusioned ramblings on air, and when his breakdown culminates in the famous, anguished cry, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" he taps into a trend of disaffected rage and sparks a new schedule of hysterical tabloid television. Written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, Network is a fierce and funny critique of television (and its audience) that, in 1976, anticipated the rise of raging pundits and cynical reality TV programming, and also cast a wary eye toward the blurring of news and entertainment, as well as the corrosive influence of corporate ownership. While Beale's descent into madness is cynically marketed and manipulated by his network and corporate bosses, UBS' former news director Max Schumacher (William Holden), forsakes years of marriage for an empty affair with an anti-intimate workaholic programming mastermind, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), who mercilessly drives the network into new territory. Peter Finch is brilliant as Beale, at once jaded and innocent, and William Holden plays Schumacher like an old rock of virtue crumbling into dust. Dunaway tackles Christensen with soulless glee and a vigorous lack of conscience. Chayefsky's screenplay is vital, fluid, exciting, and poetic, one of the best of the 1970s. In the hands of director Sidney Lumet, Network is cold, hard and unsentimental, perfect for satire, even though Lumet claims that he and Chayefsky were simply reporting, with dry humor, the contemporary state of television. While Network is often hailed as prophetic, it's also interesting for how widely it misses the mark on the substance of the sensationalist programming that actually dominates television. The audiences in Network preposterously devour hysterical left-wing political screeds against complex corporate maneuvers, a far cry from the conspicuously less intellectual sex-scandal-and-shame fare more common in today's popular reality TV. Network won Oscars for Finch (posthumously he died shortly after the film's release), Dunaway, Chayefsky, and Beatrice Straight as Schumacher's wife. Warner's two-disc Network: Special Edition offers the film for the second time in DVD, this time with a new anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Lumet offers interesting but unreliable recollections in a commentary track in Disc One, while Disc Two includes the exhaustive 85-minute feature The making of Network: A 6-Part Anniversary Documentary, plus a vintage 14-minute Paddy Chayefsky interview excerpt from "Dinah!" with Dinah Shore, and Turner Classic Movies' hour-long "Private Screenings with Sidney Lumet," with host Robert Osborne. Trailer, dual-DVD slimline keep-case.