Compellingly told story of the making and cultural effect of the 1976 Hollywood satire of the TV industry.
Best known for the signature rant (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”) of its tragic antihero Howard Beale, Network appeared at a moment when paranoia went mainstream in American movies. (The film competed for audience and awards that year with such other dark crowd pleasers as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Marathon Man.) New York Times culture reporter Itzkoff (Cocaine’s Son: A Memoir, 2011, etc.) naturally keeps his eye most closely on auteur Paddy Chayefsky, an irascible brick house of a man from the Bronx who won fame with his proletarian love story Marty (1955) and a reputation for stubborn insistence on fidelity to his scripts. The author shows how the idea developed over lunchtime conversations with Chayefsky’s close friends, including the choreographer Bob Fosse and playwright Herb Gardner, how he researched it by observing the NBC newsroom in action, and how he labored over the language in his starkly utilitarian office in midtown Manhattan. Itzkoff also zooms in on Chayefsky’s supporting players as they joined the project: the easygoing workhorse Sidney Lumet in the director’s chair; former Hollywood golden boy gone slightly to seed William Holden, hired to play the adulterous and conscience-stricken news director Max Schumacher; the notoriously “difficult” Faye Dunaway as ratings-crazy programming director Diana Christensen; and Peter Finch, who eagerly left retirement to lobby for the role of Beale.
A solid behind-the-scenes movie book. While fans of the film will find the book irresistible, others may be less convinced by Itzkoff’s case for Network’s prescience and cultural significance, supported though it may be by the opinions of Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Anderson Cooper and others in the news industry.