I wanted everyone, every man, woman or child to realize that they had a choice. I wanted them to know that they have the right to get angry, to get mad. They have the right to say to themselves, to each other, to the world at large, that they had worth, they had value. The speech wrote itself, because that was Beale’s battle cry for the people.
~Paddy Chayefsky on Howard Beale’s “Mad as Hell” speech
Network Screenplay: The History
It was after the success of his Oscar-winning script for The Hospital Paddy Chayefsky began researching television news organizations. As early as ’73, he wrote a treatment for Network and continued developing the script over the next couple years. He scrapped a plot where the network makes an arrangement with an unpopular president and forces him to war with a country strongly positioned against their corporate interest. One version would have the network butt heads with Nixon, but he eventually found his legs upon reading a story about a worldwide corporation set to take over the American Broadcasting Corporation. Traditionally, news organizations do not turn profits and are supported by other means within the network. With ABC’s potential take over, Paddy theorized a large corporation would go to great lengths to make a news organization profitable, even if it meant bastardizing the news.
Developed with producer Howard Gottfried, Paddy wrote Network entirely on spec. The two men struck a deal with United Artists to finance and distribute the film, but quickly found themselves back on the street when Paddy walked out of a meeting with a high-up in UA’s business affairs after the man insisted there was a problem with the Howard Beale character. UA let go of the film and producers from their contracts, only to come back as the distributor after MGM picked it up.
With financing and distribution secured, they hired director Sidney Lumet. The four principals were cast: Peter Finch as Howard Beale; William Holden as Max Schumacher; Faye Dunaway as Diana Christensen; Robert Duvall as Frank Hackett. Due to Paddy’s tight script and Lumet’s direction, Network was shot in only nine weeks and the film was locked just five weeks later.
Network won four Academy Awards, nearly sweeping the four acting categories. Faye Dunaway earned the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Diana Christensen. Though she was only on screen a mere five minutes and forty seconds, Beatrice Straight took home the Best Supporting Actress statute. Peter Finch’s wife accepted his Best Actor award, as he had passed away a few months before, making him the first person to win an Oscar posthumously. Finally, Paddy, the only person to win three solo Academy Awards for screenwriting, snatched his third and final Oscar for Best Writing.
Marking the 35th anniversary of the film, The New York Times published an excellent article on Network back in May. I highly recommend checking it out (I’ve included some of the information in this section), as well as The Notes Behind Network, which includes letters and notes by Chayefsky relating to the film.
Network Screenplay: The Theme
Back in ’76, Paddy Chayefsky was interviewed on Dinah Shore’s popular daytime talk show. With all the guests surrounding him, one sighs in disbelief at the thought of Ned Beatty’s infamous “the world is a college of corporations” scene having a shred of truth to it. Paddy immediately chimes in…
Ratings is money. That’s all ratings are. One point in the ratings is millions of dollars. I think they’re getting, what, a hundred fifty thousand dollars for a commercial minute of time now. In a prime time show, at seven minutes, that’s a million dollars for one show…of income that comes into the network. Now you’re talking about a multi, multi, multi-million dollar industry. As big as steel. As big as electronics. It’s an enormous industry and right now, it’s an industry dedicated to one thing — profit — and the only responsibility they have is to their stockholders. And that, I think, is worth knowing. What you see on television is what’s getting money for the network and it’s not true. 2
Where can you find shelter in a world where life isn’t as valuable as profit? Beyond Howard Beale’s manic rants, there’s a bigger message layered with cynicism. Money and power will corrupt people in high places with no regard for values society deems virtuous. They’ll slowly eat away at our values to the point we don’t recognize them anymore. There will be those who stand up against them, but we’ll be too immersed in the spectacle to hear the message.
Network Screenplay: Opening and Closing Images
I believe opening and closing images should represent bookends for a film. With Network’s opening images, you get a sense of the status quo. For some, these men may have been the only source of news since a television set found a way into their home. They know what information you want and know what information to censor. You can trust what they say.
The closing image is the perfect contrast. Television has changed. The four televisions represent the four major networks and all four show images of Howard’s on-air assassination. Violence is profit. Compared to the beginning, you have the violence, now mixed with news and commercials, as a perfect bookend and representation of theme.
Network Screenplay: The Characters
Howard Beale is Network’s protagonist. He’s beat up, scarred from his years. At the beginning, he’s to the point of suicide. In his madness, he discovers his value as an individual. And only when he loses his value as an individual is his killed.
Max Schumacher is obsessed with his mortality and identity. His job defines him. When he loses it, he has an affair to reaffirm his manhood. In the end, Max realizes that he’s still living because he’s able to feel pain and empathize with the world around him. The final scene between Max and Diana feels poorly crafted compared to the whole. If Paddy had one slip up, he seems to tell us way too much of what he should be delivering through subtext.
Young, beautiful and ambitious: Diana Christensen is a brilliant antagonist. You walk away with real empathy for her, or, at the very least, as much as you can for a woman incapable of love and completely capable of murder. It’s that very thing that destroys her in the end. Perhaps if she had the ability to love Max, she could empathize with Howard instead of destroying him.
In the next few sections, I’ve outlined the major beats for Network’s main characters. Paddy’s script and structure demonstrates superb execution of multiple character arcs all centered around the same theme. In the downloadable analysis, the beats will be mixed together, all falling in chronological order.
Network Screenplay: Howard Beale
The Howard Beale Beats
Inciting Incident — Minute 7 — On live television, Howard announces his retirement and his intention to kill himself on air in a week’s time.
Strong Movement Forward — Minute 20 — After promising Max he’ll lay off the booze, Howard gets back on the air to give himself a dignified farewell, but instead has another episode.
End of Act One Turn — minute 32 — As the news division employees say their goodbyes to Max and Howard, they are informed Hackett wants Howard back on the air effective immediately.
Decision — Howard decides to get on the air and combat hypocrisy (truth destroys hypocrisy).
First Trial – Minute 45 – Ignoring Max’s orders, Howard gets on the air and tells his audience about the voice that instructed him to preach “the truth.”
First Casualty — Minute 47 – Max takes Howard off the air over concern for his mental well-being.
Midpoint — minute 55 — UBS broadcasts Howard’s manic, “mad as hell” rant. Howard can’t hide his anger anymore. His life has meaning. The individual has meaning.
Introductory Scene to Act II-B — Minute 64 — On his new show, complete with a large stained glass window right outside of a church, Howard informs his audience that Edward Ruddy, UBS chairman, has died. He instructs his audience to shut off the televisions if they knew what was good for them.
Assumption of Power — minute 68 — Howard insists that television is nothing more than corruption and lies and the best thing society can do is turn off their televisions immediately. Ironically, the audience erupts into thunderous applause after Howard passes out.
End of Act Two Turn — minute 88 — On the air, Howard spills details regarding the upcoming purchase of CCA (the corporation that owns the network) by the Western World Funding Corporation. Howard tells his audience the WWFC is owned by a Saudi Arabian investment corporation, who will now control the network and its programming. Howard commands his viewers to stop the WWFC purchase of UBC, much to the dismay of WWFC, CCA, and UBC. Howard speculates the WWFC owning one of the most powerful propaganda machines in the world will be capable of crushing individual thought and opinion.
Introductory Scene to Act III – Minute 95 – Hackett escorts Howard in for a meeting with MR. JENSEN, Chairman of CCA. With the theatrics of an evangelical preacher, Jensen dims the lights in the CCA board room and berates Howard for interfering with the international system of currency — the reason for life on the planet, putting the fear of God into Howard.
Network Screenplay: Max Schumacher
The Max Schumacher Beats
Inciting Incident — Minute 10 — Hackett insists Howard’s antics could affect the network’s corporate restructuring at the upcoming stockholders meeting. Hackett’s irate at Max’s empathy for Howard and threatens his position as head of the news division.
This reminds Max of his mortality. Society tells him that after his career is over, he will soon face his death.
Strong Movement Forward — minute 20 — After being humiliated at a shareholders meeting where Hackett announced each division is required to turn a profit (news divisions are typically, and historically, supported by other means within a network), Max lets Howard go on a manic rant on the air, refusing to take him off. As a result, he’s fired by the network chairman, Ruddy.
End of Act One Turn — minute 33 — Ruddy gives Max his job back. Ruddy believes Hackett is making a mistake with Howard and CCA will take action to terminate him.
Decision — Max accepts. Ruddy needs Max as an ally against Hackett and Max needs his identity back.
First Trial – minute 42 — Max and Diana have dinner. She tells it like it is: “a middle-aged man reaffirming his middle-aged manhood and a terrified young woman with a father complex.” They begin their affair. Max trades his values for a woman who wishes to exploit his best friend.
First Casualty – minute 50 – Howard’s last show was a huge hit, but he’s disappeared. Hackett demands to know his whereabouts. Frank wants Howard for the ratings and Max wants his friend to seek treatment.
Midpoint — minute 58 — Watching Howard’s broadcast with his family, Max’s daughter opens their apartment window and discovers the entire neighborhood screaming, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Max’s former employer and the woman he loves is exploiting his best friend’s mental illness for profit.
Assumption of Power – minute 72-75 — A romantic weekend away with Diana, where they only speak of business during long walks on the beach, romantic dinner for two, and sex in their hotel room. Max needs Diana’s youthfulness and energy to reaffirm his manhood.
End of Act Two Turn — minute 77 — Max breaks the news of his affair to his wife, Louise. Max insists he’s in love with Diana and Louise gives it to him with both barrels.
Note: this turn comes very early, as Howard is the story’s protagonist. Max essentially disappears until the third act.
Point of No Return — minute 104 — Max expresses his greatest fears to Diana, giving their relationship a shot at real intimacy, not sex peppered with business talk.
In the midst of Max baring his soul, Diana takes a business call.
Climax — minute 112 — Max leaves Diana.
Network Screenplay: Diana Christensen
The Diana Christensen Beats
Inciting Incident — minute 12 — Diana screens footage of a bank robbery by the Ecumenical Liberation Army (parody of Patty Hearst and The Symbionese Liberation Army). Diana is fascinated with the footage.
Strong Movement Forward — minute 15 — Diana meets with her team. She wishes to exploit the Ecumenical Liberation Army with their own prime-time show. Diana sees no ethical dilemma producing a show with a known terrorist organization. To her, it’s all about ratings and profit.
End of Act One Turn — minute 28 — Diana meets with Hackett and begs for Howard’s show.
First Trial / First Casualty — minute 52 — Due to Ruddy’s recent heart attack, Hackett now acts as chairman of UBS and gives Diana Howard’s show. With Max’s insistence to take Howard off the air, Hackett fires Max. Diana chooses her career over a relationship with Max.
Midpoint — minute 57 — Howard’s show is a hit. Phones are ringing off the hook. People are screaming in the streets. With the show a hit, this puts Diana in a position of power and sets up her inevitable decline.
Assumption of Power — minute 72-75 — A romantic weekend away with Max. On their trip, they talk only about business during long walks on the beach, romantic dinner for two, and sex in their hotel room. Diana has a shot at real love and intimacy.
End of Act Two Turn — minute 90 — Hackett reveals to Diana, Chaney, and other top brass that the Saudi’s hold $2 billion in CCA loans. If the Saudi money does not come through, CCA is done and Diana’s career is in extreme jeopardy.
Point of No Return — minute 109 — Diana comes home and packs Max’s bags for him She’s through with the relationship after Max expressed his fears. When Max arrives, he finishes packing his bags and puts up no fight, much to her dismay.
Climax — minute 117 — With Howard’s ratings on a steep decline, Hackett recommends they kill him. Diana suggests the Ecumenical Liberation Army assassinate Howard on the air and that they use it, making it “a hell of kick-off show for season.” Hackett and the top brass agree. Diana now believes profit is more important than human life.
Network Screenplay: The Analysis
I’ve provided full Network screenplay analysis available for download, which breaks down the protagonist’s characterization, misbehaviors, internal and external goals, theme, central dramatic question, story engines, plus a complete beat breakdown. This is based on Daniel P. Calvisi’s Story Maps method. Dan is a story analyst, screenplay consultant, author and screenwriter. Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay can be purchased from Amazon.com.
- Dinah! Paddy Chayefsky on Network. NBC. 1976. Television. ↩