Paddy Chayefsky was one of the great writers of motion pictures. His masterpiece, “Network” (1976), lost the Best Picture Oscar to “Rocky”. “Rocky” is an excellent movie – really great. But “Network” is transcendent.
“Network” tells the story of the news anchor of a major network who, after a psychotic break, becomes a prophet condemning the very corporate media that employs him, and that exploits his anti-television ranting to further expand its influence and profit.
You can read Chayefsky’s entire script online HERE.
Paddy Chayefsky spent most of his career in television, and he got to an intimate view of the electronic medium’s move from a curiosity in the 1940′s to the center of American life in the 1970′s.
INT. THE STUDIO
A bare stage except for one stained glass window, suspended by wires upstage center. HOWARD BEALE, in an austere black suit with black tie shambles on from the wings. TUMULTUOUS APPLAUSE from the STUDIO AUDIENCE.
HOWARD: “Edward George Ruddy died today! Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman of the Board of the Union Broadcasting Systems – and he died at 11 o’clock this morning of a heart condition and woe is us! We’re in a lot of trouble!! So … a rich little man with white hair died. What does that got to do with the price of rice, right? And why is that woe to us? Because you people, and sixty-two million other Americans are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books! Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers! Because the only truth you know is whatever you get over this ‘tube’. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube! This tube is the gospel. The ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddamned force in the whole godless world! And woe to us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people! And that’s why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died! Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communications Corporation of America. There’s a new Chairman of the Board, a man called Frank Hackett, sitting in Mr. Ruddy’s office on the twentieth floor. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network? So, you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth! Television is a goddamned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats, story-tellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion- tamers and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business! So if you want truth, go to God. Go to your gurus. Go to yourselves! Because that’s the only place you’re ever going to find any real truth!
But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell. We’ll tell you that Kojack always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker’s house. And no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don’t worry, just look at your watch – at the end of the hour, he’s going to win. We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds – we’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We are the illusion! So turn off your television sets! Turn them off now! Turn them off right now! Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right now, right in the middle of this sentence I’m speaking to you now! Turn them off!! – “
At which point, HOWARD BEALE, sweating and red-eyed with his prophetic rage, collapses to the floor in a prophetic swoon. The Studio Audience applauads.