– What do you mean, “have a crack at it”? – I’d like to program it for you. … Develop it. I wouldn’t interfere with the actual news itself, but TV is showbiz, Max. And even the news has to have a little showmanship. Everything that was discussed about television in that movie has happened. Except we haven’t killed anybody on the air yet. That’s the only thing that hasn’t happened deliberately. But other than that everything has happened: News as Entertainment Paddy Chayefsky’s classic 1976 film Network tells the story of Howard Beale. A TV news anchor who goes a little bit crazy and starts actually telling the truth on TV. He is soon exploited by an ambitious programming executive named Diana Christensen which angers Max Schumacher, the head of the news division, who believes the news should remain pure. The film correctly predicts how damaging the impulse to make everything on TV entertaining would be to the integrity of the news . And how making entertainment the only qualification for being on TV would allow fringe groups to push themselves into the mainstream. It’s a biting satire and when it was first released the TV industry hated it. Paul Friedman, a producer of The Today Show, called it unfair. Newscaster Edwin Newman said that TV producers wouldn’t stoop so low for ratings. And that there’s evidence that the opposite is true. The president of CBS News said it was just such a caricature. It simply couldn’t happen. – The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them. I think it’s safe to say that we’re living in Chayefsky’s nightmare. But considering how sharp and prophetic his film turned out to be, it’s almost hard to believe just how much he doubted the content of the story as he wrote it. In 2001 the New York Public Library acquired a bunch of notes that Chayefsky made while writing the film that give us an extraordinary glimpse into his writing process. Specifically they reveal his struggles in handling an ever sprawling story and deciding on an ending, clarifying the themes of the allegory and figuring out where the love story would fit. Network is an ambitious film. And one of the biggest troubles Chayefsky had when writing the script was balancing his ambition with what could be accomplished in a story. In his book on the production of the film “Mad as Hell” David Itzkoff notes that “Chayefsky had wanted to tell a story that was global in its scope from the continents banning clashes of Governments and corporations to the atomic level collisions of mere people.” But as he wrote his cast of characters inflated and he struggled to figure out a logical way to bring it all to a close. Most of the many ideas he rejected sound way too complicated and too detached from the main characters to make sense in the story. Ideas like: “By the end of the picture all the networks will have been bought by other multinationals” Or “What if the multinational corporations declare war on … Chile”? That’s kind of random. Or what if the revolutionary group kidnapped Beale as a way of attracting attention to their group. Compared to these big, complicated sequences, the NDP actually ended up picking seems quaint. In the finished film, Beale’s ratings tanked when his delivery takes a more depressing turn. Unable to cancel the show because the president of their parent company likes it. The network decided to have Beale assassinated. He is. The end. It’s a simpler ending, but it can be because it’s allegorical. In an allegory everything in the story is a stand-in for something else in the real world. And every character and incident in Network has an allegorical meaning. In the ending Beale is assassinated by a group of communist radicals who Diana has given their own TV show. So by having the network hire them to do the killing it shows how corporations can co-opt any ideology to serve their profit-driven motives. The ending may not be global in scope as Chayefsky originally intended. At least not in the actions recorded on film, but it is as far as what it’s saying as an allegory. So these two problems actually end up being the same problem. Because the biggest issue that Chayefsky faced when putting together the screenplay was figuring out exactly what he wanted it to say thematically and finding a method to express that in a story. At the top of one page Chayefsky writes “The show lacks a point of view” “We are making some kind of statement about American society and its lack of clarity is what’s bothering me even more I’m not taking a stand. I’m not for anything or anyone” Later he writes that the story has “… no ultimate statement beyond the idea that a network would kill for ratings and even that doesn’t mesh with the love story and whatever the love story says thematically” So how did Chayefsky solve these issues? Well, it’s difficult to say definitively since it’s hard to pinpoint how far along he was in the process when he felt this way, but I think his solution is to make the love story the focus of the allegory. In the finished film Matt Schumacher represents hard, honest journalism while Diana Christensen represents the corrupting influence of television. Though he falls in love with her, he leaves her once he concludes that she is incapable of love – You’re television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality Allegorically the message couldn’t be clearer. We the people who want the news to remain honest have to reject Diana’s version of television. Otherwise we’ll be degraded as she is. – If I stay with you I’ll be destroyed like Howard Beale was destroyed – Like everything that you and the institution of television touch was destroyed But in his notes it didn’t start out this way. He initially referred to Max as “Hotshot” and his place in the allegory was exactly the opposite. He was gonna be a young news producer who is hired to bring his hit tabloid format to an ailing network newscast It’s only later that Chayefsky Recasts him as a 50 year old president of the network news division. A tough but righteous fellow. This version of the character was divorced unlike the final version who’s still married but most importantly he sees himself as someone who upholds the highest traditions of journalism. This character would then battle against a regional news director who resembles the hotshot Max was originally going to be. Later Chayefsky added a love interest for Max who is very different from the love interest he ends up having in the finished movie he describes her as a No-bullshit girl who sees through all of Max’s high principled bullshit. A character who would come to represent the virtuous path he needed to follow. I think it’s here that Chayefsky ran into trouble with the allegory and figuring out just what the love story meant. After all if Max is already someone who respects the highest traditions of journalism, How can a romance with a virtuous girl help him get where he already is ideologically? There’s no conflict there. Nothing for him to learn from her. Chayefsky’s solution is to combine the hotshot adversary character with the love interest character. Now we’ve got an interesting push and pull. He’s attracted to her physically and emotionally but morally repulsed by her. It’s at this dynamic that forms the backbone of the story and clarifies its allegorical message. Great stories are not born fully formed but it’s rare for us to have such a clear picture of how one was formed, to see a creators reasons for every decision they made along the way. And I think there’s great value in that both because of the lessons we can draw from asking why he made these decisions and as a reminder that art gets better over time. Though he won three Academy Awards for screenwriting Chayefsky maintained that writing was just work. “Perseverance counts more than Talent”. He once said. “Stop thinking of writing as art. Think of it as work.” “If you’re an artist whatever you do is gonna be art.” “If you’re not an artist at least you can do a good day’s work.” This video is sponsored by Vrv. If you haven’t heard of it Vrv is a great streaming service that packages together a bunch of other channels that you may have heard of. And if you click the link in the description you’ll get a 30-day free trial. 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