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How ‘Network’ Predicted the Future of TV News

NetworkIf you work (or have worked) in TV news, and we know many of you do, you’ve probably seen “Network,” the 1976 classic which takes a cynical look at the news business as fictional TV network UBS exploits its anchorman for corporate profit. (If you haven’t seen it, get to Netflix, stat.)

Today Dave Itzkoff, a culture reporter for The New York Times, is out with a new book about the film. The book’s title, Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies, includes the the outcry which would be immortalized in pop culture. “Network” won 4 Acadamy Awards, including one for Peter Finch who played the “Mad as Hell” anchorman and who died just weeks before the Oscars. (If you’ve seen the film, you’ll get the tragic irony).

Actor Rob Lowe, writing the New York Times Book Review calls the film “darkly funny and breathtakingly prescient” and says Itzkoff’s “engrossing, unfolding narrative contains the perfect amount of inside-baseball moviemaking stories and anecdotes about stars.”

MadAsHellItzkoffThe Wall Street Journal review covers how the film was received in the TV news world of the mid-1970s

The TV establishment was predictably infuriated. Though his daughter, an actress, had a small role in the film, Walter Cronkite issued increasingly dismissive comments, calling it “a rather amusing little entertainment.” Worse, “they cut my daughter’s part down to almost nothing.” In the midst of the storm, [screenwriter Paddy] Chayefsky wrote craven letters to Cronkite and his NBC counterpart, John Chancellor. “Please know,” he told Chancellor, “I never dreamed television people would be angry about the film”—showing that the screenwriter was either disingenuous or delusional.

USA Today calls “Mad as Hell” “absorbing and revealing,” noting that Itzkoff speaks “with some admirers who became prominent writers and TV personalities — among them Stephen Colbert, Aaron Sorkin and Keith Olbermann.” “You wish Chayefsky would come back to life long enough to write The Internet,” Sorkin says.

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