Script of the Week: Network

Story as Entertainment and Social Commentary

©MGM

Network (1976) was written by Paddy Chayefsky (1923-1981) and directed by Sidney Lumet (1924-2011).

Paddy Chayefsky said he didn’t write the film as an attack on the television industry (‘it’s not a brutal attack, maybe a murderous attack, but not brutal,’ he laughs in the interview), he just described the world as he saw it around him. He wants to get a message across but if it happens it’ll be a bonus. First and foremost the story has to be entertaining.

“How do you preserve yourself in a world in which life doesn’t really mean much anymore. That’s what I was trying to say, but the trick of course is to say it so that it’s a good movie.”

Chayefsky wrote a lot of fictional TV, and said he enjoyed watching TV but didn’t believe a word that was said on it because of the way everything is condensed, manipulated, and influenced by the ratings game. The audience becomes brutalised because they see violence every day and it makes them indifferent to it. And the country (like most developed countries these days) are television-saturated, most of the population gets their information from television.

“This is what the picture is essentially about – when do we say ‘Hold it! A human life is a hell of a lot more important than your lousy dollar’.”

Paddy Chayefsky’s notes for Network (New York Public Library)

Chayefsky channelled his frustrations with television into this satire that deals with news operation through the character of Howard Beale.  Beale is a news anchor whose rating have been declining and the broadcast network fires him; Beale reacts by announcing that he will commit suicide on air, resulting with him getting his own show and becoming a huge audience success (with good ratings), and Beale uses his power to make revelations about the Communications Corporation.

Paddy Chayefsky won the Oscar for Best Writing for Network.

Read the screenplay here

Paddy Chayefsky discusses Network and the way television manipulates truth.

Paddy Chayefsky’s notes for Network

Paddy Chayefsky’s notes for Network (New York Public Library)

Paddy Chayefsky’s notes for Network (New York Public Library)

Paddy Chayefsky created programming for the fictional UBS (New York Public Library)

Paddy Chayefsky’s notes for Network (New York Public Library)

 

Howard Beale’s moving speech is timeless: the problems are as relevant today as they were when the film was made.

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