In 1976, millions of people saw Network and laughed bitterly at its exaggerated, satirical story of a TV news department’s quest for ratings. In 2016, you watch the movie and realize it’s not a satire anymore. Every outrageous thing it predicts has happened. Was screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky a prophet? Did director Sidney Lumet have a crystal ball? Probably not. At any rate, never mind how mad you are, sit down and take these behind-the-scenes details about one of Hollywood’s most timeless satires, which was released 40 years ago today.
1. THE MOVIE GETS LIGHTER AS IT GETS DARKER (IN A MANNER OF SPEAKING).
On the DVD commentary, director Sidney Lumet points out a strategy that he and cinematographer Owen Roizman used to subtly underscore the movie’s themes. In the beginning, scenes that require anything more than natural light get only the bare minimum: dim lights in a barroom, for example. That’s to emphasize the news being independent, unconcerned about beauty, not “showy.” But as the characters become corrupted, we see more and more artificial lighting, as if the movie itself is becoming vain about its appearance. “Even the camera got corrupted as the movie went on,” Lumet said.
2. PETER FINCH GOT THE PART BY READING A NEWSPAPER.
Lumet was convinced he needed an American actor to play the unhinged TV news anchor. Peter Finch, though a fine actor, was inconveniently British. To prove to Lumet that he could get the accent right, he recorded himself reading an entire issue of The New York Times.
3. THEY USED A REAL TV STATION FOR THE NEWS SEQUENCES—IN CANADA.
The whole film was shot in real offices, apartments, etc., rather than on studio sets, mostly in New York. But for the scenes in the TV control room and Howard Beale’s news show, Lumet and company had to go to Toronto, as there were no TV stations closer that could rent themselves out for the two weeks Lumet needed. (There may have been opposition due to the nature of the film, too.)
4. SHOOTING ON LOCATION MEANT THEY HAD TO FAKE SOME RAIN.
The network offices in the film were real upper-floor offices in a Manhattan skyscraper. The un-fakeable view of a real city outside the windows gave the movie authenticity … but it also meant the weather in the movie was dictated by the weather in real life. That’s why there’s a scene where we see Howard Beale walking in the rain and entering the UBS building soaking wet: it had been raining days earlier when they filmed an office scene that took place right before this one, so they had to use rain machines to make it match.
5. IT RESULTED IN THE FIRST POSTHUMOUS OSCAR FOR A PERFORMER.
Peter Finch’s trophy for Best Actor was awarded 10 weeks after his death, and accepted by his widow, Eletha Finch. Several other posthumous Oscars had been won before, but Finch’s was the first in an acting category. (It remained