NETWORK on BROADWAY: Since we want to have a theater outing for this Fall, this post is about our attending the Broadway production of NETWORK, starring Bryan Cranston on Wednesday, November 14th at 2pm. Tickets are $165 each. Members, please go to the SIGN UP! tab on the members’ site menu and reserve your ticket. If you have difficulty signing in, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
YOU REMEMBER HOWARD BEALE, DON’T YOU? The memorable character created by the multi- award-winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and played by British actor Peter Finch in the 1976 movie NETWORK? (look at the clip below.) Howard’s the one who had a nervous breakdown on television – providing his network with a ratings windfall – and who famously created the rallying cry, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
That classic movie is now a play, produced by the National Theatre of London, which won an armful of Olivier Awards – including Best Actor for Bryan Cranston who is reprising the role on Broadway. Almost 40 years forward, the media manipulation and mob anger portrayed in Chayefsky’s work are hardly novel but seem mostly prescient of our country’s current dystopia – and the reality television that helped create our dispiriting new normal. The movie tapped into the post-Watergate-Nixonian rage of its time and this production seems likely to do similarly for whatever it is we call our current state. NETWORK was outrageous in 1976 and it’s just as outrageous in 2018; it features unhinged people in positions of authority as well as the co-opting of terrorism for worldly gain.
The basic plot revolves around a news show which is failing in the ratings and is about to get cancelled and the news executives, uh, creative approach to stemming the decline. The anchor of that show – Howard Beale – having heard rumors that he’s about to get fired, announces that on his broadcast he will commit suicide on television the following week. He quickly becomes a galvanizing figure (yikes, think Alex Jones and InfoWars) and flavor-of-the-month everyman celebrity. However, as typically happens in television, the audience tires of him and, inevitably, his ratings again begin to slide. But given Howard’s new celebrity status, the network executives fear a backlash if they fire him. Their solution? They hire terrorists to assassinate him – on air – in order to get rid of a difficult employee and net a ratings bonanza. This is a simplistic description of the movie; there are also a number of suits (two of whom have a romance) and what some feel is a bit too much preaching.
The screenplay for NETWORK was voted as one of the ten best in the history of cinema by the Writers Guild of America. Bronx-born Paddy Chayefy is considered an iconic figure of television’s early golden age (primarily in the 1950’s) – when the new medium sought to elevate and had striking influence with its hugely broad audience (hence the term: broadcasting). He also wrote the famous MARTY, a sweet tale of two very average people (Ernest Borgnine and Teresa Wright) falling in love, which won him his first of three Academy Awards. A graduate of City College in New York, Chayefsky was also a playwright and novelist.
As befits our present, this production of NETWORK utilizes a wide range of technological wizardry – multiple screens, countdown clocks, “in-house”-real time video – which are used to heighten the sense of time pressure of both the medium and what Howard is feeling as his own mortality spins out. At the National Theater the production also had dining tables on stage, where audience members were seated, to give a sense of the voyeuristic elements of television (don’t know if that will happen in NYC).
Cranston’s portrayal of Lyndon Baines Johnson netted him a Tony in 2014 for his Broadway debut in ALL THE WAY. NETWORK could very likely give him his second. Ordinarily a production from the mid-1970’s would feel a bit like a period piece – but that’s not going to be the case here.