Thursday, June 6, 2019

Say It Out Loud

Only a few movies have gotten the broadcast news industry right. Here's another one.

Paddy Chayefsky wrote 1976's Network as a satire. And now, looking back at it, it's prophetic. A fourth-rate fictional network among four networks suddenly hits the jackpot when their news anchor goes nuts as a self-proclaimed prophet of the airways. The film gave us a peek at the soul of tabloid TV and the cult of mass media personalities.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I have never worked in a TV newsroom. The closest I ever got to a network news department was sitting in the control room for the CBS Evening News, when Bob Schieffer was anchoring and the operation ran like NASA's Mission Control.

Network is one of those films that doesn't turn up much on TV anymore, maybe because it excoriates its medium so thoroughly, maybe because it's one of those movies too cool for TV. Like all great parody, it draws in a chunk of reality. The network executive portrayed by Faye Dunaway was based upon Lin Bolen, an NBC topper in charge of daytime programming. So it's pretty funny hearing Dunaway's character complain about NBC's "lousy game shows." Bolen denied she was the influence, but you can believe what you want. Under Bolen, NBC had a powerhouse morning line-up anchored by Hollywood Squares.

The film gets overtly preachy more than once, but somehow, it all works because of what it has laid out from the beginning.

As I write this, CBS is navigating through another anchor change in the post-Dan Rather era of the evening news. Katie Couric, Scott Pelley and Jeff Glor have come and gone and we shall see whether Norah O'Donnell can move the needle out of third place. We'll also see whether the conglomerate that is CBS can stand strong under the pressure.

No comments: