The highly dubious “auteur theory” that distinguishes the director as the “author” of a film in the same way that a writer is the author of a novel simply does not hold when applied to Network. The film that reveals a shocking ability to produce what was absurdly satiric at the time but has since proven unparalleled in its accuracy to foretell the future can only be termed to have been co-authored by two men who both enjoyed brought the kind of profound experience required to faithfully portray the kind of deviant mindset that seems necessary to become a successful television executive.
Network was written by Paddy Chayefsky who was one of the progenitors of the live TV dramas that marked the Golden Age of Television in the 1950s. Director Sidney Lumet’s early career features a remarkable number of television directing credits from that same era. Trying to pair up a writing/directing capable of providing genuine insight into the world of television programming would be quite the task.
What is most remarkable about Network today is how what seemed not just satirical but patently absurd at the time has actually come to be eclipsed in absurdity by reality. The target of the ire in Paddy Chayfesky’s script was how far the state of quality in television programming had fallen since the 1950…and it is vital that you realize that when Network was released into theaters, the networks’ primetime schedule included such shows recognized as among the iconic classics of all time such as All in the Family, MASH, The Waltons, The Bob Newhart Show, Barney Miller and Columbo.
The very concept of a show built around the daily routines of a real-life family with absolutely no discernible talents like the Kardashians would have been as impossible to imagine as the fictional series titled “The Mao Tse-Tung Hour” that airs in Network. A show that made no immediately obvious impact upon America’s pop culture According to Jim could never have lasted through half a season during the era that inspired Network much less manage to hang on for an astonishing eight seasons.
The spiral of the central on-camera personality, news anchor Howard Beale, from respected journalist to wild-eyed, crazed monologist who became a superstar personality right at the point it seemed his career would end prefigures the rise to prominence of Morton Downey, Jr. and Jerry Springer. With the notable exception that Beale’s anger was directed toward stimulating positive change in a society whereas his real-life offspring were all just blathering bigmouths pandering to the basest instinct of TV viewers.
Truly, watching Network today is a completely different experience than watching in 1976. In fact, the way that the satire which seemed completely out of step with any sort of reality has, in fact, been left solidly in the dust by the reality of what television became is enough to make you mad as hell and sweat that you are not going to take it anymore.