What happens when the juggernaut industry known as Hollywood turns the lens on the larger world of power and profit? In this series, Matthew Pejkovic explores how the focus of the business movie has evolved over the years, from media moguls and corporate raiders to working girls and Gen-Y geeks — larger-than-life characters inspired by (and inspiring) real-world counterparts.
Click around the tube and it is apparent that big business and TV have become inseparable. The nightly news is no longer one anchorman in a suit looking down the camera, delivering the daily doom and gloom. Production value, scandal and celebrity are now the tools used to drive up ratings, strengthen shares, and make the news profitable.
Such a world was first prophesied in the 1976 classic Network. Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men) and written by world-renowned writer Paddy Chayefsky, Network told the story of the slagging USB television station news division which is in dire need of a ratings injection.
That is exactly what they get when suicidal anchorman Howard Beale (an excellent Peter Finch) has an on-air breakdown, with his tirades against the system — which included the infamous line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” — a ratings smash.
Soon the news has become the freak show, to the delight of network boss Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), whose proclamation that “We’ve got a hit! A big-titted hit!” is the cherry on top of a huge business deal, where the network’s conglomerate is to be bought out by an even larger Saudi Arabain conglomerate.
From the news desk to the board room, Network saw Lumet and Chayefsky delve into the shoddy ethical nature of the television industry and its desire to do anything for a buck. 25 years later, famed film critic Roger Ebert would write that Network “was like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and the World Wrestling Federation?”
What a dark vision, indeed.
Matthew Pejkovic is a freelance film journalist located in Sydney. He writes for various print and online publications including FilmInk and The Retiree. He also runs his own website, Matt’s Movie Reviews.net, and you can follow him on Twitter via @mpejko.