Filmsite Movie Review
Network (1976)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

When Hackett brings up the preposterous idea to Nelson Chaney (Wesley Addy) of Legal Affairs for the Network in the Executive Dining Room at lunchtime, Chaney reacts: "I don't care how bankrupt! You can't be seriously proposing and the rest of us seriously considering putting on a pornographic network news show! The FCC'd kill us!" Hackett persuasively argues that the financial incentives are worth the risk to make the network profitable: "The affiliates will kiss your ass if you can hand them a hit show...We're not a respectable network. We're a whorehouse network, and we have to take whatever we can get." And then he reasons with the skittish legal representatives:

Look, what in substance are we proposing? Merely to add editorial comment to our network news show. Brinkley, Sevareid, Reasoner all have their comments. Now Howard Beale will have his. I think we ought to give it a shot. Let's see what happens tonight.

As Schumacher packs up his office and entertains other news executives with humorous stories, Robert McDonough (Lane Smith) his replacement to run the News Division, announces that Frank Hackett, Chaney and Christensen want to give birth to The Howard Beale Show - "to put Howard back on the air tonight...apparently, the ratings went up five points last night and he wants Howard to go back on and do his angry-man thing...They want Howard to go back on and yell bulls--t. They want Howard to go on spontaneously letting out his anger, a latter-day prophet, denouncing the hypocrisies of our times."

McDonough was initially appalled by the networks' decision: "I told them, I said, 'Look, we're running a news department down here, not a circus. And Howard Beale's not a bearded lady. And if you think I'm gonna go along with this bastardization of the news, you can have my resignation along with Max Schumacher's right now.'" Howard, however, eagerly wishes to "be an angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisies of our times." Because of the presumptuousness of Hackett's "corporate maneuvering," Ruddy urges that Max reconsider his resignation, and Schumacher is reinstated to his position as UBS News Division President.

The narrator describes the declining ratings for the new Howard Beale show:

The initial response to the new Howard Beale was not auspicatory. The press was without exception hostile and industry reaction negative. The ratings for the Thursday and Friday shows were both 14, but Monday's rating dropped a point, clearly suggesting the novely was wearing off.

After watching the evening show in the darkness of his office, Schumacher becomes aware that Diana Christensen is standing at his office doorway, relating what a parapsychologist that morning had predicted for her future: "'For example,' she said, 'I just had a fleeting vision of you sitting in an office with a craggy, middle-aged man with whom you are or will be emotionally involved.' And here I am." Her promotional interest in Howard Beale and his show have faded, unless she can program the news division show for success:

Beale doesn't do the angry man thing well at all. He's too kvetchy. He's being irascible. We want a prophet, not a curmudgeon. He should do more apocalyptic doom. I think you should take on a couple of writers to write some jeremiads for him...The fact is, I could make your Beale show the highest-rated news show in television, if you'd let me have a crack at it...I'd like to program it for you, develop it. I wouldn't interfere with the actual news itself, but TV is show biz, Max, and even the News has to have a little showmanship...I watched your six o'clock news today - it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park. On the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crimes, sports, children with incurable diseases and lost puppies. So I don't think I'll listen to any protestations of high standards of journalism. Now, you're right down in the street soliciting audiences like the rest of us. Look, all I'm saying is, if you're gonna hustle, at least do it right.

Schumacher agrees with her: "I think Howard is making a god-damn fool of himself, and so does everybody Howard and I know in this industry. It was a fluke. It didn't work. Tomorrow, Howard goes back to the old format and all of this gutter depravity comes to an end." Realizing that she is plotting a "scam," Schumacher learns that she has personally admired him "with a schoolgirl crush" ever since she was a "kid majoring in speech at the University of Missouri," and she has designs on taking over his network news show "sooner or later, with or without you." Although he had opposed the hard-nosed Diana and she is a potential threat, Max begins an affair with her.

Max: Do you have a favorite restaurant?
Diana: I eat anything.
Max: Son of a bitch, I get a feeling I'm being made.
Diana: You are.
Max: I've got to warn you, I-I don't do anything on my first date.
Diana: We'll see.
Max: (to himself, muttering) Schmuck, what're you getting into?

During dinner at a restaurant, she relates her unhappy, soul-dead personal life, and how she passionately breathes and lives her work, television and high ratings:

I was married for four years and pretended to be happy. I had six years of analysis and pretended to be sane. My husband ran off with his boyfriend, and I had an affair with my analyst who told me I was the worst lay he'd ever had. I can't tell you how many men have told me what a lousy lay I am. I apparently have a masculine temperament. I arouse quickly, consummate prematurely, and can't wait to get my clothes back on and get out of that bedroom. I seem to be inept at everything except my work. I'm good at my work. So I confine myself to that. All I want out of life is a 30 share and a 20 rating.

As she seduces Max, a married man for twenty-five years (with a married daughter in Seattle who is six months pregnant and a younger girl who starts at Northwestern in January), she compares their affair to the writing of a television script: "Well, Max, here we are - middle-aged man reaffirming his middle-aged manhood and a terrified young woman with a father complex. What sort of script do you think we can make out of this?" He also learns that she is not "Frank Hackett's backstage girl" - "Frank's a corporation man, body and soul. He has no loves, lusts or allegiances that are not consummately directed toward becoming a C.C. and A. board member. So why should he bother with me? I'm not even a stockholder."

Max proposes that the next news broadcast will be "straight news" because he is "killing this whole screwball angry prophet thing." Howard, however, believes he has been inspired by a "shrill, sibilant, faceless Voice" that awakened him from sleep, and gave him a mission on television "to tell the people the truth - not an easy thing to do because the people don't want to know the truth." Max immediately suspends Howard and suggests that he see a psychiatrist: "I think you're having a breakdown, require treatment." Beale doesn't feel that he has turned mad, but rather has been inspired:

This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I am imbued, Max. I am imbued with some special spirit. It's not a religious feeling at all. It is a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing as if suddenly I had been plugged into some great electro-magnetic field. I feel connected to all living things, to flowers, birds, to all the animals of the world and even to some great unseen living force, what I think the Hindus call prana. It is not a breakdown. I have never felt more orderly in my life! It is a shattering and beautiful sensation! It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and of such loveliness! I feel on the verge of some great ultimate truth. And you will not take me off the air for now or for any other spaceless time!

Howard swoons and collapses on the floor, and is brought to sleep on the living room sofa that night in Max's New York apartment. When Louise Schumacher (Beatrice Straight) rises out of bed the next morning, Howard has already left and is nowhere to be found. At work, Max is told by Hackett in his office that the network's ratings have sky-rocketed, affiliates are calling, and fan mail is piling up: "The son of a bitch is a hit, god-dammit. Over two thousand phone calls!..As of this minute, over fourteen thousand telegrams! The response is sensational...We've even got an editorial in the holy god-damn New York Times -'A Call to Morality.'"

Beale's popularity and ratings have grown, but he is more off-the-wall, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Max worries about Howard's sanity, but his concern falls on the deaf ears of Hackett and Christensen who want to capitalize on Howard's mental problems by making the news division part of the entertainment schedule. And then, Max is deposed a second time:

Max: He could be jumping off a roof for all I know. The man is insane. He's not responsible for himself. He needs care and treatment. And all you grave-robbers think about is that he's a hit!
Diana: You know, Max, it's just possible that he isn't insane, that he is, in fact, imbued with some special spirit.
Max: My God, I'm supposed to be the romantic. You're supposed to be the hard-bitten realist.
Diana: All right. Howard Beale obviously fills a void. The audience out there obviously wants a prophet, even a manufactured one, even if he's as mad as Moses. By tomorrow, he'll have a 50 share, maybe even a 60. Howard Beale is processed instant God, and right now, it looks like he may just go over bigger than Mary Tyler Moore.
Max: I am not putting Howard back on the air.
Diana: It's not your show any more, Max, it's mine.
Hackett: I gave her the show, Schumacher. I'm putting the network news show under programming. Mr. Ruddy has had a mild heart attack and is not taking calls. In his absence, I'm making all network decisions, including one I've been wanting to make a long time - you're fired.

The icy-cold, calculated VP of Programming had known all along about Hackett's take-over and had thought that her late-night visit to Max's office would prevent a "network hassle" and help "work the Beale show out just between the two of us." Not wanting to have Howard exploited "like a carnival freak" in "this whole reeking business," Max threatens: "I'm gonna make a lot of noise about this."

On the street outside the UBS Building in a drenching rainstorm, Howard Beale walks toward work, wearing a brown overcoat over his pajamas. In the lobby, he tells the security guard: "I must make my witness," an indication of his increasing insanity. With his hair soggy and unkempt, Howard is seated on-stage at the news desk in the studio, as controllers raptly watch his progress from the network news control room. When the show returns to the desk where Howard has been prepared for the broadcast, he begins his on-the-air rantings, ravings and editorials about the problems of the world and the sorry state of mankind, energizing millions of previously apathetic Americans. Beale delivers the nation's battle cry with memorable lines in his rage-filled monologue, as the network executives track the responses:

I don't have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad - worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot - I don't want you to write to your Congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad. (shouting) You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!'

Diana determines that the show is beamed live to sixty-seven affiliates, including Atlanta and Louisville, and speaks by phone to the general manager of the UBS affiliate of Atlanta - WCGG. She is delighted that they're yelling Howard's words in Baton Rouge, and exclaims wildly as she tosses the phone into the air: "Son-of-a-bitch. We've struck the Mother Lode!" Within Max Schumacher's apartment, his seventeen-year old daughter Caroline (Cindy Grover) has been watching the show with her parents and heads to the living room window "to see if anybody's yelling." As she opens the window - hearing thunder crashes and viewing lightning flashes, she also hears a multitude of neighboring voices of citizens yelling: "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" It is a formidable, furious symphony of angry, fed-up denouncements.

The narrator continues his off-screen commentary as a jumbo 747 lands at the Los Angeles International Airport, where Diana has gone to prepare programming for a second show:

By mid-October, the Howard Beale show had settled in at a 42 share, more than equaling all the other network news shows combined. In the Nielsen ratings, the Howard Beale show was listed as the fourth highest-rated show of the month, surpassed only by The Six Million Dollar Man, All in the Family, and Phyllis. A phenomenal state of affairs for a news show. And on October the 15th, Diana Christensen flew to Los Angeles for what the trade calls pow-wows and confabs with her West Coast programming execs to get production rolling on the shows for the coming season.

In front of a programming board which displays the schedules for all four networks, Diana speaks to a group of West Coast program developers and story department personnel. Later, she introduces herself as "a racist lackey of the imperialist ruling circles" to Afro-coiffed Laureen Hobbs, a mid-30s black woman (in dashiki) who calls herself "a bad-ass Commie nigger." Diana is pleased she has immediate rapport with a terrorist guerrilla before their negotiations begin: "Sounds like the basis of a firm friendship." Laureen's associate lawyer Merrill Grant (Ken Kercheval) speaks on her behalf with an opening position statement: "...our client, Ms. Hobbs, wants it out front. The political content of the show has to be entirely in her control." Diana's programming interest is to boost ratings for a show about urban guerrillas - Hobbs would serve as a liaison between the network and various revolutionary groups:

Diana: I'm interested in doing a weekly dramatic series based on the Ecumenical Liberation Army, and I'll tell you right now what the first show has to be - a two hour special on Mary Ann Gifford. Let me tell you what I want. I want a lot more film like the bank rip-off the Ecumenical sent in. The way I see the series is: each week, we open with an authentic act of political terrorism taken on the spot and in the actual moment. Then we go to the drama behind the opening film footage. That's your job, Ms. Hobbs. You've got to get the Ecumenicals to bring in that film footage for us. The network can't deal with them directly. They are, after all, wanted criminals.
Laureen: The Ecumenical Liberation Army is an ultra-left sect creating political confusion with wildcat violence and pseudo-insurrectionary acts which the Communist Party does not endorse. The American masses are not yet ready for open revolt. We would not want to produce a television show celebrating historically-deviational terrorism.
Diana: Ms. Hobbs, I'm offering you an hour of prime-time television every week into which you can stick whatever propaganda you want.
Laureen: The Ecumenicals are an undisciplined ultra-left gang, whose leader is an eccentric to say the least. He calls himself the Great Ahmed Khan and wears a hussar's shako.
Diana: Ms. Hobbs, we're talking about thirty to fifty million people a shot. That's a lot better than handing out mimeographed pamphlets on ghetto street corners.
Laureen: I'll have to take this matter to the Central Committee, and I'd better check it out with the Great Ahmed Khan.

In a small isolated farmhouse outside Los Angeles which serves as the Ecumenicals' Headquarters, Laureen meets with the Great Ahmed Khan (Arthur Burghardt) - who wears a hussar's shako and is eating from a barrel of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Using the jargon of television rather than her customary revolutionary rhetoric, she promises him notoriety as a "household word" - along the lines of the right-wing bigoted character from the All in the Family TV show:

Laureen: I'm gonna make a TV star out of you. Just like Archie Bunker. You gonna be a household word.
Khan: What the f--k are you talkin' about?

The Network News Hour has been enlarged to increase the audience share, by including in its format a fortune teller, a yellow journalist, a gossip columnist, and Beale who is billed as "the Mad Prophet of the Airwaves":

Ladies and Gentlemen. The Network News Hour! with Sybil the Soothsayer, Jim Webbing and his 'It's-the-Emmes-Truth Department,' Miss Mata Hari and her skeletons in the closets, and tonight, another segment of Vox Populi, and starring the mad prophet of the airwaves, Howard Beale!

In front of a packed, applauding audience, Howard appears on-stage (wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie) as a messianic figure in front of one colorful stained glass window. After presenting a prophetic warning about the woes that face the public following the death of Edward George Ruddy and the take-over of UBS-TV by C.C.A., he delivers a much-quoted commentary that attacks television itself. He ends by encouraging his audience to turn their televisions off:

Edward George Ruddy died today! Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman of the Board of the Union Broadcasting Systems and he died at eleven o'clock this morning of a heart condition! And woe is us! We're in a lot of trouble! So, a rich little man with white hair died. What does that got to do with the price of rice, right? And why is that woe to us?

Because you people and sixty-two million other Americans are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books. Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome, god-damn force in the whole godless world. And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people and that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died.

Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communication Corporation of America. There's a new chairman of the board, a man called Frank Hackett sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the 20th floor. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome, god-damn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what s--t will be peddled for truth on this network.

So, you listen to me! Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television is a god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, story tellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers and football players. We're in the boredom-killing business. So if you want the truth, go to God. Go to your gurus, go to yourselves because that's the only place you're ever gonna find any real truth. But man, you're never gonna get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We'll tell you that Kojack always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker's house. And no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry. Just look at your watch - at the end of the hour, he's gonna win. We'll tell you any s--t you want to hear.

We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube. You even think like the tube. This is mass madness. You maniacs. In God's name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion. So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off. Turn them off right in the middle of this sentence I am speaking to you now. Turn them off!

As he exorts his audience, his eyes circle around and he collapses to the onstage floor in a swoon - a show-stopping seizure.

In a C.C.A. conference room, Hackett proudly makes his annual report to senior executives on the board, gloating about "an increase in projected initial programming revenues in the amount of twenty-one million dollars due to the phenomenal success of the Howard Beale Show. I expect a positive cash flow for the entire complex of forty-five million achievable in this fiscal year, a year - in short - ahead of schedule." He has turned the UBS Network into "the most significant profit center of the communications complex." Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), the President and Chairman of the Board of CCA compliments Hackett on his "exemplary" work.

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