Network (1976)


A suicidal TV news anchorman strikes a nerve with the public, prompting his network to bastardize their news hour with his crackpot proselytizing. Before long, the network embraces pure tabloid sensationalism — live assassinations and all. Network is now famous for being ahead of its time, foretelling the Jerry Springer and Honey Boo Boo phenomenons decades in advance. But there’s more to it than biting satire and dark comedy.

I love the characters that inhabit Paddy Chayefsky’s script, and director Sidney Lumet gives the cast free range to make them as vivid and compelling as possible. At the core of the film, there’s the weathered newsman who gets ousted when the network makes its change (William Holden), his heartlessly ambitious love interest (Faye Dunaway), and his suicidal comrade-cum-prophet (Peter Finch). On the supporting sidelines you have Robert Duvall as a stressed out voice of reason, Ned Beatty as the corporate tycoon who lays a powerful smackdown, and Beatrice Straight as Holden’s broken-hearted wife. Everyone hits a home run, but it’s Holden’s character who grounds the film. He’s the one reacting to the insanity around him — he’s our window into this crazy world. His droll one-liners and melancholy resolve are both funny and sad — perfect reactions in a film which is both a comedy and a tragedy.

Network is one of those movies that surprises you while you watch it, where reality and absurdity blend in a beguiling way that absolutely works. The fact that we’re now immersed in its trappings makes it all the more relevant and important.

Finch and Dunaway won Oscars for their leading roles (Finch was awarded posthumously, as he died two months before the ceremony), while Straight won the supporting actress award. (She’s only on screen for a few minutes, but she’s pretty amazing in them!) Holden and Beatty were nominated for their work. And most rightfully, Chayefsky won the trophy for screenwriting.

Academy Awards: Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Actor (Peter Finch), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight), Best Original Screenplay

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (William Holden), Best Supporting Actor (Ned Beatty), Best Editing, Best Cinematography

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