"We're talking about putting a manifestly irresponsible man on national television." - Frank HackettWhen I first heard that quote uttered, my mind immediately leapt to Glenn Beck. Of course that name could be filled by any number of pundits on TV today, and my mind jumped to the conclusion that this was going to be a smart drama about the effects of commercialism on news networks. And that message may have been in there, for all I know, but it was lost among heavy and relentless preaching about the evils of television and its effect on last generation. Paranoid preaching that grossly exaggerates the problem, leaving this film not as a smart look at the way ratings drive news and content, but as a blanket condemnation of television on us as individuals.
Perhaps I have Network to thank (blame) for the widespread condemnation of television as a medium. The message was something that's been distributed for as long as I can remember, yet I think the film missed the mark by contrasting the frivolous with the former respectability of the newsroom, instead of going after the pernicious masquerade that the News is. Yes I know this is meant to be a satire, and I know I'm judging the film from a post-FOX era, but the exaggerated news-as-entertainment isn't much of an issue. The moment Peter Finch went to being a newsroom preacher was the moment I lost interest.
But it wasn't enough to have a preacher on TV preaching its ills, but the second half of the film was largely devoted to an old man telling off his mistress with far too many speeches of "back in my day..." It's made worse by the virtue of assuming that TV has taken the humanity out of humans, where now everything is merely acting out a script, and there's no true feeling any more. One scene where the woman's sexual climax comes from listing off ratings was just painful to watch.
The film started with such promise - a fired anchor promises to kill himself on air. While the actual ending could have been a lot worse, the film could have redeemed itself by fulfilling that promise made at the beginning. By that time, the character had shifted from depressed, through outraged, onto borderline insane, then finally into a puppet. Was I meant to care that he was killed for ratings by that stage? He was taken out of all believability long before then. When he implored us to turn off our televisions, I nearly did.
Ironically, it's a TV show that has best captured the ideal of TV news. HBO's The Newsroom does a much better job of it. It too is preachy, but is on the mark. Likewise, the satire that The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or Australia's CNNNN all hit the mark with brilliant satire. Compared to those, Network comes of as elitist and condescending.