The UBS news anchor Howard Beale is fired because of the low rating. When he hears that, he proclaims, on national live TV, that he will shoot himself on the air in one week. The TV management is shocked, but the new producer Diana is fascinated by the high ratings so she gives Howard his own TV show where he won't kill himself, but will actually insult everyone and lament about the injustice in the world. The show is a hit while Diana starts a relationship with the middle-aged producer Max. But when Howard starts criticizing an Arab conglomerate for buying UBS and urging the audience to protest, he crosses the line and Arthur Jensen, CEO of UBS, convinces him that he whole world is one big company. From there on, Howard changes and preaches how the individual is dead. In order to get rid of him and his low ratings, Diana hires a few revolutionaries to kill him on TV.The 1970's where probably the most daring decade of the 20th Century cinema. Even movies today that are considered great seem rather childish and soft compared to the sheer restless spirit of the 70s. That said, "Network" seems more like a great movie for today's than for the 1970's standards. Frankly, it's a mixed bag. The screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky is undeniably one of the best screenplays of the modern cinema with some of the greatest (unknown) quotes ever, lines so beautifully and intelligently written that they seem like music to the movie buffs ears, but the execution by director Sidney Lumet is somehow dull and bleak. Namely, it seems the focus of the movie is entirely wrong: Faye Dunaway's character is boring, William Holden's character is boring, Robert Duvall's character is boring, the Mao Tse Tung revolutionaries subplot is completely useless - but whenever Peter Finch's character of the insane anchor Howard Beale is on the screen, the movie is so brilliant is brings down the house. If Howard was the main, instead of the supporting character, the movie would have been a masterwork, but this way it's hard to comprehend why Chayefsky was wasting time with the story by pushing the hollow relationship of producers Max and Diana in the foreground, which never seems right.
Still, some of the lines are among the most quotable ever because they ridicule the establishment with sheer satirical power. We are all used of having anchors tells us news on TV in a fancy suit and a mechanical posture, and thus is subtly funny when Howard is on TV without a tie, all sweaty and visibly insane, standing up from his chair at one point and ordering the viewers to lament about the unfair world by shouting: "I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!" The story is first and foremost a satire about the media and their negative impact on people, which is neatly summed up when Max says a genius observation about his relationship with TV producer Diana, the one how he "can't be sure if she is capable of any real feelings, because she learned them all from TV". The 4 minute cameo by Beatrice Straight as Max's wife definitely didn't deserve an Oscar for best supporting actress, but the 5 minute cameo by Ned Beatty, in the role of the UBS CEO Jensen, is so fantastic it almost matches Howard's antics when he explains him the true nature of the world: "There is no democracy! There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today!" It's a pity Finch's character was just a supporting character, and not a leading character, but he was so powerful in his role he actually won the award as best actor in a leading role from the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the BAFTA awards.