Network courtesy Warner Home Video
DVD Tuesday: Network - The movie that took on trash TV three decades ago

With all the Oscar talk about veteran director Sidney Lumet, 82, being snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences despite overwhelming accolades for his new Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, this seems a good time to revisit one of Lumet's classics, the 30-year-old denunciation of trash television, Network. I always remembered Network as broad and exagerrated, but I saw it again a couple of years ago and boy was I wrong. If anything, it's not wild enough.

Golden Age of Television writer Paddy Chayefsky's furious screenplay grew out of the 1970s-era push to shift network-news programs into the entertainment groups, suddenly forcing them to compete with sitcoms, game shows and soap operas for ratings and - more importantly - money.

Veteran New York newsman Howard Beale ( Peter Finch, who won a well-deserved Oscar) is unceremoniously given the boot after 25 years, and loses it on air. "Since this show was the only thing I had going for me in my life," he tells his viewers, "I have decided to kill myself. I'm gonna blow my brains out right on this program a week from today. Tune in next Tuesday. That should give the public-relations people a week to promote the show. We ought to get a hell of a rating out of that - a 50 share, easy."

Over the protests of old-school news executive Max Schumacher (William Holden), venal new programming VP Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) gives Beale his own show, and from his new pulpit he tries to foment a couch- potato revolution with the rant that became a cultural touchstone:

"I don't have to tell you things are bad.... It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, "Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms.... Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your congressman. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'"

Of course, the success of the "mad prophet of the airwaves" just ensures that within months, the network-news block is a three-ring circus of
fortune-tellers and celebrity gossip, and they're developing a reality show (there wasn't even a name for it) about urban guerrillas, including footage of their attacks on the establishment. Remember, this was the age of the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army, who set off bombs, kidnapped Patty Hearst and killed people while securing funds to finance their activities. They weren't the Bader Meinhoff, and they weren't as organized as, say, Germany's Red Army Faction, but they were no joke.

No wonder George Clooney wanted to produce a live TV version of Network like the 2000 remake of Fail-Safe (1964) he helped push through, and too bad it never happened.

So does this sound disturbingly prescient? Take a look and see if you don't get a chill.

Things to Consider:

Is trash TV a problem or a symptom of a problem?

Can movies ever stir people to real-life action, or do they just appease the converted?

Examples, of successes or failures?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

Hear Maitland on the weekly podcast TV Guide Talk.

See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the Movie Talk vodcast.

Previously in DVD Tuesday:

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Shoot 'Em Up
A Mighty Wind
It's a Wonderful Life
All About Eve
Sweet Smell of Success
Daughters of Darkness
The Crazies
Blade Runner
A Simple Plan
Taxi Driver
Hot Fuzz
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Citizen Kane
La Jetée
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Bob le Flambeur
Near Dark
Perfect Blue
Pan's Labyrinth
Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Casino Royale
The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood