Are the characters in Network (1976) far-fetched and do they apply to today?

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Network is about the tension and exploitation of the media network in order to get the highest rating possible. The story of network follows a network that is struggling to keep up with big networks and there ratings. There is a breakdown from a presenter (Howard Beale) and the ratings increase. Not wanting to miss out on this opportunity the producers introduce a show which peaks and begins to crash. Which leaves them with a dilemma as what to do with Howard Beale?

The genre of network is an interesting and often a confusing question as it has the merits of a documentary in the style that is it filmed. For example the level of performances and the clinical cinematography creates a documentary. But the genre is of drama origins because of the nature of the context as it is in places over exaggerated to increase the effect of the message. The target audience for network is those aiming or currently working in the media industry as it has as much relevance to today as it did in 1976. It is likely that is was also aimed at the unaware public of what goes on behind closed doors of their favourite programs.

Can Sydney Lumet be considered as an auteur? Well the word auteur is brandished around far too easily today. But in this case that title is fairly earned as his style is comparable, and to a certain degree could have influenced the works of martin Scorsese. Evidence proves that he has a directorial stamp on a film which is apparent. Firstly most of his films are based in New York and often have a satirical view on quite depressing matters. He also had the ability to bring out stunning performances from the actors and supporting members. This gives the impression of a documentary which adds to the suspension of disbelief.

Network (1976) represents the media industry’s views in a blatant fashion. Faye Dunaway’s character was portrayed to show that women in that era had to fight harder for their position. Also as women in the producing positions were limited as it was predominately male. Therefore she has to over achieve to get acceptance from the other producers.  Faye Dunaway’s character also had quite a male attitude as it was clinical and diverse of emotion when Faye Dunaway’s character is having sex she is emotionally detached, she is also ruthless and ratings obsessed. She is man like in the bedroom. This personality trait links in with inter-textual references within network. First of all network is more of a reference to the mass media that populates popular culture. Also how it is afraid of communism and revolution yet in the film that’s the basic context. Network Movie script (1976) by Paddy Chayefsky ‘The Communist Party believes that the most pressing political necessity today is the consolidation of the revolutionary, radical and democratic movements into a United Front’. This shows awareness to what the media is and could be speculation to views of multi-million dollar networks. Another reference is that the viewer is often likened to the audience, so when it reaches its conclusion is symbolises that the audience is dispensable to networks as are there staff. 

The mise en scene (different aspects of film) of Network (1976) is very professional which lacks a human touch; this is a set that is accurate to an office in the 70’s. For the most part the lighting is false light and not many shots are external. This can be a likeness to the characters personality as they are fully committed and work late hours. Network is not a nine to five job and this shows by the lack of daylight. When Arthur Jenson is lecturing Howard Beale the lighting draws the audience into what the man is saying and creates a sense of intimidation. Then it has a stark contrast and Mr Jenson is in complete darkness to empathise his dark character.  The costume design is very professional throughout and the hair cut is clearly cut and keeps the professional theme going. The acting is clear and creates a great sense of realism throughout. The actors are often seen as that is there personality and trait but in fact supports the power of their performances. The cinematography of Network (1976) is clean cut, business like which suits the style that is portrayed. Again this supports the reason why network is considered a documentary by many. There are many close ups as there is a lot of intense conversations which draws the audience attention further into the dialogue. Now sound is an important key to any film and really creates the mood and feel of the motion picture. The sound design in Network (1976) is just as you would expect. The heavy usage of typing and general office sounds creates a professional and realistic feel to the film. Another great use of sound is the telephone is ringing a lot, which consists to the characters and there obsession with their work. The editing pace supports the realism and documentary style because of it slow pacing. The shots also drag on for longer than the average 8 seconds per shot for an average film.

In this section we will be looking at the textual analysis. Network (1976) clearly shows the obsession with targets and ratings from within the industry and the world of work. It also has the strong theme of the exploitation of the vulnerable. For example Howard Beale has an emotional breakdown and the first thing they want to do is kick him out of the company instead of helping him. Secondly they see an opportunity to increase ratings and exploit his breakdown. This goes to show the lack of humanity in modern day living and the dog eat dog attitude that seems to cloud the industry.  Network (1976) is a film that is clever beyond face value. A growing theme is the anti-establishment in economic trouble and the up rise that it will bring. This is very similar to our situation now as we are in economical downturn and the up rise of unrest is on the brink of our society as many have lost jobs and faith. ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore’ this quote applies just as much now as it did then. This quote shows the fear of establishments and there power in society. In tough times the public grasp onto anything that will see them to better times. This is clearly shown in Network (1976) that the public is undervalued and scared for their future, this is so similar to today’s situation. Network Movie script (1976) by Paddy Chayefsky ‘We sit and watch our tee-vees while some local newscaster tells us today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be’. This speech from Howard Beale is a true self reflection of modern life and the way the news is going. If we watch the news today this is what we are confronted with on a daily basis. The news often displays the hardship of humanity and not the success stories.

I personally found Sydney Lumet’s personal and career experiences interesting. Sydney Lumet was a homosexual in a world that was highly unaccepting.  ‘Everything that was discussed on about television in that movie has happened except we haven’t killed anyone on air yet’ Sidney Lumet on directing the film "Network"(1999) interview. I find that this opinion is exactly the same as mine. This can apply to today’s television such as; I’m a celebrity get me out of here. Where they are subjected to take on humiliating tasks in order to provide ‘entertainment’ same goes for big brother. These type of shows are in high demand in today’s society as they are considered to be entertainment and have high ratings. The similarity between Network (1976) and the entertainment networks of today are remarkable. I also found it really interesting to find out how to television industry received the film. ‘Loved it nobody would have dared to dislike it because then people would say it was about you’ Sidney Lumet on directing the film "Network"(1999) interview. This really surprised me because of the negative representation of television industry. I imagined during the first viewing that the reception would be negative. The way that the network companies were easy to pass it off as another network station was not a real surprise. In short the producers of these network companies don’t want to admit that the characters are them. Which accurately represent their values and mentality to their work.

I also found that is Network the feminist theory (male gaze theory) doesn’t apply to this film, and maybe with good reason. Laura Mulvey ‘feminist theory’ (1975) states ‘The woman as icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men’. There was much interest in the view into the way we see females in cinema after her article. Diana Christensen’s (Faye Dunaway) character is completely different to this way of cinema. She is smart focused and not objectifying herself to the audience or fellow members of staff. I found this interesting as cinema previously had the lead female vulnerable and out of touch with a masculine world. As if they need constant protection from an intimidating. As Diana is completely the opposite, she embraces the challenge and often comes out the victor. The defeminising of Diana would be a shock to an audience especially to an era that was still quite sexist.

My conclusion is that Network (1976) was an accurate representation of the television network and the exploitation of people to boost viewings/ratings. The film also highlights the determination and drive the staff have to create an award winning show. This attitude applies to today’s television because the network companies exploit anything to get the success they crave. The depiction of the industry is brutal and well documented as if the viewer was witnessing real life. In short Network (1976) is considered to be a master piece in cinema as the themes are filled with depth. Reflection often makes the best films because it brings the truth to the foreground instead of industry falsities that they want you to believe. This leads me to believe at the end of it all ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore’.


Paddy Chayefsky.. (1976). Network (1976) movie script. Available: Last accessed 5/12/2012.

Network (1976) Sydney Lumet [Film] Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

EMMYTVLEGENDS.ORG. (1999). Sidney Lumet on directing the film "Network” [interview] Available: Last accessed 10/12/2012.

Feminist theory: Richard Maltby (2003). Hollywood Cinema. 2nd ed. London: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Page 540.


About the author


Hi there, I am currently studying film production at staffordshire university. I am also passionate about photography and I want to be in the creative media.

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