A television network cynically exploits a deranged former anchor’s ravings and revelations about the news media for its own profit.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch
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The Union Broadcasting System (UBS) is the floundering fourth place American network of only four. Howard Beale, the once popular news anchor for UBS, has seen his own declining fortunes of late. Personal problems have led to his performance slipping, which in turn has led to declining ratings. The network has fired him, effective in two weeks, the news given to him by the head of the network’s news division and his long time friend, Max Schumacher.
On his first broadcast following receiving this news, Beale announces on air that he will blow out his brains on the telecast in one week’s time, and the reason for doing so. The network brass, incensed, pulls him off effective immediately, but Howard, stating he was drunk at the time over the news of his firing, pleads for one final telecast so that he can exit from news broadcasting with dignity. When on the broadcast Howard instead speaks candidly, emotionally and profanely about what he is feeling, Diana Christensen, the relatively new and ambitious vice-president in charge of programming, thinks that Howard is the panacea to all the network’s rating problems as Howard is only stating what the public is feeling. She is interested in counter-establishment programming. With Max’s blessing, she wants to hijack from the news division a television news show featuring Howard. Through this process, Diana tries to convince network brass to do what she wants not only with Howard’s show but other counter-establishment programming, Max wants to preserve his reputation as a news man with integrity, and Howard tries to convince Max and Diana that he is imbued with messages from higher powers, which is making him seem insane to Max (who cares) and Diana (who cares only if his rantings from these higher powers increase ratings). Despite their differences in views, Max and Diana begin a September-May romance, which plays on Max’s conscience as a faithful married man for twenty-five years and which Diana always refers to, as she does everything in life, in terms of a television show plot outline.