Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Moviesby Dave Itzkoff
The behind-the-scenes story of the making of the iconic movie Network, which transformed the way we think about television and the way television thinks about us
“I’m mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”
Those words, spoken by an unhinged anchorman named Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airwaves,”/b>/i>
The behind-the-scenes story of the making of the iconic movie Network, which transformed the way we think about television and the way television thinks about us
“I’m mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”
Those words, spoken by an unhinged anchorman named Howard Beale, “the mad prophet of the airwaves,” took America by storm in 1976, when Network became a sensation. With a superb cast (including Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, and Robert Duvall) directed by Sidney Lumet, the film won four Academy Awards and indelibly shaped how we think about corporate and media power.
In Mad As Hell, Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times recounts the surprising and dramatic story of how Network made it to the screen. Such a movie rarely gets made any more—one man’s vision of the world, independent of studio testing or market research. And that man was Paddy Chayefsky, the tough, driven, Oscar-winning screenwriter whose vision—outlandish for its time—is all too real today. Itzkoff uses interviews with the cast and crew, as well as Chayefsky’s notes, letters, and drafts to re-create the action in front of and behind the camera at a time of swirling cultural turmoil. The result is a riveting account that enriches our appreciation of this prophetic and still-startling film.
Itzkoff also speaks with today’s leading broadcasters and filmmakers to assess Network’s lasting impact on television and popular culture. They testify to the enduring genius of Paddy Chayefsky, who foresaw the future and whose life offers an unforgettable lesson about the true cost of self-expression.
Network, the satirical masterpiece that won four Academy Awards in 1976, remains a cultural touchstone even for those moderately enthusiastic about cinema. Its writer’s name, Paddy Chayefsky, has become much less recognizable in comparison since his death in 1981 despite his long and storied career in television and movies. Itzkoff, a culture reporter for the New York Times, reminds us of Chayefsky’s unique career trajectory and deeply idiosyncratic writing style in this chronicle of the writer’s greatest work. Prior knowledge of Network and the state of Hollywood in the early- to mid-1970s is extremely helpful; although Itzkoff nicely sums up each major player’s biography and filmography, seeing the screenplay’s evolution appeal best to those who are familiar with its final form. There’s still plenty to enjoy for those who have yet to see the movie, though—Itzkoff peppers his straightforward and balanced narrative with plenty of juicy anecdotes, including Peter Finch’s briefly monastic upbringing and Chayefsky’s furious attacks on antisemitism. But Itzkoff’s real achievement is in his chilling analysis of Network as prophecy, demonstrating through interviews with Anderson Cooper, Stephen Colbert, Bill O’Reilly, and others that Chayefsky’s satire has become our reality. (Feb.)
“Itzkoff's engrossing, unfolding narrative contains the perfect amount of inside-baseball moviemaking stories and anecdotes about stars. It is an inspiring, conflict-driven account of the parade of the indignities and happy accidents that are always present when making a movie, even a great one.” Rob Lowe, The New York Times Book Review
“Absorbing and revealing ... [Mad as Hell] garners insights into what made the film enduringly provocative and riveting.” USA Today
“Between the time the covers were glued on [Itzkoff's] lively and terrifically detailed account and this very minute, the media world has become more Chayefskyian still.... Itzkoff's narrative is thorough yet brisk as he catalogs the good and the bad that befell Chayefsky and his passion project. It is fortified with vivid anecdotes.” The New York Times
“Dave Itzkoff's account of how the brilliant, stubborn, and pugnacious Chayefsky did his research, wrote his script and, ultimately, imposed his vision on the film is elegantly executed.... Itzkoff is right to give Paddy Chayefsky his due as a cultural icon.” Ted Koppel, NPR All Things Considered
“Dave Itzkoff's Mad as Hell chronicles not only Chayefsky's arduous efforts to get ‘Network' made but also the influence its several messages have had…Almost 40 years after ‘Network,' we're less mad than distracted, looking to be amused. We could use another Paddy Chayefsky.” The Washington Post
“I salute Itzkoff for zooming in at book length on Network.” The Atlantic
“Fun … Offers a vivid portrait… [and] great anecdotes.” Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
“Dave Itzkoff takes us on an extraordinary journey, and in the process reveals Chayefsky's prognosis for TV, a prognosis we've chosen to ignore even as its come true before our eyes.” Forbes
“Mad as Hell … reminds us of that era when the profession of screenwriting was revered, and some top writers could actually get a movie made… Chayefsky brought to films like Hospital and Network both anger and irony -- elements that go missing from Monuments Men.” Variety
“Riveting…a compelling portrait.” Details
“In Mad as Hell, Itzkoff tells the story, lovingly and in depth, of the creation of a brilliant and important movie that would almost certainly never be made today…. Itzkoff makes a convincing argument that Chayefsky was only using the news as a metaphor to reflect the degeneracy of empathy and decency…. [Howard Beale] deserves to have his story told as deftly as Itzkoff has told it here.” The Miami Herald
“Dave Itzkoff's book both meticulously reconstructs the making of the film and sketches, with depth and sensitivity, the complex, troubled life of its screenwriter-creator Paddy Chayefsky.” The Daily Beast
“Briskly readable.” San Francisco Chronicle
“Amply researched and highly readable.” The Santa Fe New Mexican
“A terrific book by a New York Times writer about a film classic.” The Buffalo News
“Itzkoff gives the film its due. More important, he shows just how vital one writer can be.” Sioux City Journal
“Mad as Hell … provides an in-depth account of the making of the 1976 film that's particularly impressive because almost four decades have passed since the late screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky brought ‘Network' to the big screen… The three-ring-circus that Beale's newscast morphs into certainly resembles some of the reality shows that fill network schedules today.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Itzkoff digs into every nook and cranny of the film's production--and also interviews contemporary television journalists such as Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly and Anderson Cooper to discuss its impact…This is a very sharp and insightful book…Popular cultural history at its best.” Shelf Awareness
“It's a joy to read and should be on the list of students of media and PR….We're all living in Paddy's world. Things won't change until we get as "mad as hell" as Network's crazed visionary Howard Beale.” O'Dwyer's
“[A] compellingly told story of the making and cultural effect of the 1976 Hollywood satire of the TV industry [and] a solid behind-the-scenes movie book… Fans of the film will find the book irresistible.” Kirkus Review
“Network, the satirical masterpiece that won four Academy Awards in 1976, remains a cultural touchstone…[and in Mad as Hell] Itzkoff peppers his straightforward and balanced narrative with plenty of juicy anecdotes… but Itzkoff's real achievement is in his chilling analysis of Network as prophecydemonstrating through interviews with Anderson Cooper, Stephen Colbert, Bill O'Reilly, and others that Chayefsky's satire has become our reality.” Publishers Weekly
“Absorbing… [Chayefsky] kept a passion for the worth of the common person throughout his career, and every insult to human dignity infuriated him… A making-of film book that's also a piquant biography.” Booklist
“Dave Itzkoff has written a sensational and definitive book about how the twentieth century's most important screenwriter came to write the twentieth century's most explosive movie. It's a loving and intelligent examination of what happens when talent and skill take common pain and anger and focus it into a magnificent work of art. I believe this is the first thing written about Paddy Chayefsky that Chayefsky would have liked. Watch Network and read this book.” Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and The Newsroom and screenwriter of The Social Network
“Network is still a movie worth arguing about, and Dave Itzkoff shows us not just how this movie got made, but how, step by step and line by brilliant, argumentative line, it got written. This is one of the most rewarding books I've read about how a script evolves, and a tough, true and unsparing portrait of an extraordinary writer.” Mark Harris, author of Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
“Dave Itzkoff does a terrific job of bringing this signal moment in movie history to life, conveying the larger significance without losing sight of the crazy day-to-day stuff that goes into the process -- the egos, uncertainty, desire, money, and power struggles that make us love to read about movie-making. And he does it all with an intensity and passion Paddy Chayefsky would admire.” Julie Salamon, author of The Devil's Candy and Wendy and the Lost Boys
“This is that rarest of the ‘biography of a movie' genre: the one that allows you to enjoy, in new ways you never dreamt of, the greatness of a perfect, prophetic film like Network.” Keith Olbermann
“Dave Itzkoff's account of the making of Network, Paddy Chayefsky's prescient if mordant x-ray of network news on its way down from its postwar heights to the pabulum it is today, makes for riveting reading.” Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and editor of My Lunches with Orson
“The story of Network is the story of a prophetic screenwriter and his unrelenting determination to make the film that would not only change the way we looked at television, but free us to express our anger, individually and collectively. This is more than a book about a seminal movie. It's a book about a seminal moment in American history, told with grace, force, wit, and intelligence.” Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning
“This thorough and rousing book reminds us that Paddy Chayefsky, aside from being one of the knockdown smartest individuals Hollywood has ever allowed, ranked with its most visionary. Mad As Hell makes painfully clear how our country's tabloid ethic has only worsened in the years since this Paul Revere of screenwriters saw it coming four decades ago. We should have listened.” Sam Wasson, author of Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman
“Dave Itzkoff has blessed us with a vivid and richly entertaining account of what goes on inside the making of a hit movie -- the mixture of intrigue, creativity, infighting, and astonishing behavior of the famous and the driven; all of which somehow came together to produce a superb motion picture. Not to be missed.” Dick Cavett
Compellingly told story of the making and cultural effect of the 1976 Hollywood satire of the TV industry. Best known for the signature rant ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!") of its tragic antihero Howard Beale, Network appeared at a moment when paranoia went mainstream in American movies. (The film competed for audience and awards that year with such other dark crowd pleasers as Taxi Driver, All the President's Men and Marathon Man.) New York Times culture reporter Itzkoff (Cocaine's Son: A Memoir, 2011, etc.) naturally keeps his eye most closely on auteur Paddy Chayefsky, an irascible brick house of a man from the Bronx who won fame with his proletarian love story Marty (1955) and a reputation for stubborn insistence on fidelity to his scripts. The author shows how the idea developed over lunchtime conversations with Chayefsky's close friends, including the choreographer Bob Fosse and playwright Herb Gardner, how he researched it by observing the NBC newsroom in action, and how he labored over the language in his starkly utilitarian office in midtown Manhattan. Itzkoff also zooms in on Chayefsky's supporting players as they joined the project: the easygoing workhorse Sidney Lumet in the director's chair; former Hollywood golden boy gone slightly to seed William Holden, hired to play the adulterous and conscience-stricken news director Max Schumacher; the notoriously "difficult" Faye Dunaway as ratings-crazy programming director Diana Christensen; and Peter Finch, who eagerly left retirement to lobby for the role of Beale. A solid behind-the-scenes movie book. While fans of the film will find the book irresistible, others may be less convinced by Itzkoff's case for Network's prescience and cultural significance, supported though it may be by the opinions of Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Anderson Cooper and others in the news industry.
Dave Itzkoff has written a sensational and definitive book about how the twentieth century's most important screenwriter came to write the twentieth century's most explosive movie. It's a loving and intelligent examination of what happens when talent and skill take common pain and anger and focus it into a magnificent work of art. I believe this is the first thing written about Paddy Chayefsky that Chayefsky would have liked. Watch Network and read this book.
Network is still a movie worth arguing about, and Dave Itzkoff shows us not just how this movie got made, but how, step by step and line by brilliant, argumentative line, it got written. This is one of the most rewarding books I've read about how a script evolves, and a tough, true and unsparing portrait of an extraordinary writer.
Dave Itzkoff does a terrific job of bringing this signal moment in movie history to life, conveying the larger significance without losing sight of the crazy day-to-day stuff that goes into the process--the egos, uncertainty, desire, money, and power struggles that make us love to read about movie-making. And he does it all with an intensity and passion Paddy Chayefsky would admire.
The mid-1970s witnessed a renaissance in American cinema, with Network (1976)included among the many classics of that period. What makes that film all the more remarkable is that the driving force behind it was not the vision of the director or skill of the actors, but the tenacity of an often-sidelined player in the moviemaking process. Oscar-winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, though, built his career upon a refusal to be sidelined. Itzkoff (Cocaine's Son; Lads), culture reporter for the New York Times, chronicles the making of the film from the first seeds of Chayefsky's idea through casting, production, promotion, and ultimate critical and commercial success. Throughout, he illustrates the tension between the creator and the works produced. An interesting wrap-up comparing Network's prophecies to the modern mass media news scene, along with a few judicious touches of Hollywood gossip, bring a wide general appeal to this work. VERDICT This thoroughly researched book deserves a place on the shelf of every aficionado of 1970s cinema. Strongly recommended for cultural historians of the period and readers interested in behind-the-scenes memoirs as well.—Neil Derksen, Pierce Cty. Lib. Syst., Tacoma
- Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.20(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.20(d)
Read an Excerpt
He was at his best when he was angry. It wasn’t simply that so many things bothered him, or that when they did, they irritated him to the fullest possible degree. But where others avoided conflict, he cultivated it and embraced it. His fury nourished him, making him intense and unpredictable, but also keeping him focused and productive. He was not generally the sort of person who felt the need to clench his fists in violence or submerge his sorrows in drink. But he knew what it was like to have desires and see them denied; he knew how it felt to cry out and not be heard. His outrage simmered in his spleen and surged through his veins, collecting in his fingertips until it pushed his pen across paper and punched the keys of his typewriter. He wrestled his rancor into words and sentences and speeches. When Paddy Chayefsky’s characters spoke, they spoke with his aggravated, articulate voice, and yet they seemed to speak for everyone.
While his career was in ascendance, he was hailed as the dramatist of the common man, whose ear for the language of the underclass was so uncanny that it was said he must have transcribed it from a tape recorder. His best-known characters were thwarted people who feared nothing so much as unfulfillment, whose most emphatic and memorable dialogue poured out of them in aggressive bursts, arriving in explosive climaxes after scene upon scene of unvoiced frustration and unresolved conflict. Whether he was imagining the inner life of a lowly, lovelorn butcher or the impotent chief of medicine at a major metropolitan hospital, Chayefsky could relate to these men. Their struggle for even a minimal amount of autonomy mirrored their creator’s refusal to cede any amount of control in his life and especially in his work.
He had all the accumulated resentments of a man of his time and place, who had lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II, and who strived to fulfill the dreams of his immigrant parents and outpace anyone he regarded as a rival or a colleague. He was a short, stocky Bronx-born Jew, a son of the Grand Concourse with narrow eyes framed by large, owlish glasses, and a head of unkempt brown and white hair, with an impish goatee to match. He had no regard for fashion or convention and possessed a mischievous, cantankerous personality. A sincere compliment directed his way could trigger his venomous invective as easily as a well-deployed insult or dirty joke could earn his respect.
Chayefsky was the rare writer whose reputation earned him absolute authority on his projects—supremacy above even the directors and producers he worked with—and he sought only projects where he was allowed this authority. But what defined his writing now, in 1974, was that none of it was working. Back in the 1950s it had taken only a few years of toiling in that newly created format of television for him to cast it aside in favor of a more respectable and lucrative career in motion pictures; and only a few more years of disappointment there to leave film for the theater, where he was certain he would retain total control over the material he created; and only a few more years of total discouragement in that field to abandon the stage and return to the movies.
At the age of fifty-one, he could get his film scripts commissioned but not produced; he could get his television pilots shot but couldn’t get them on the air; and it would require the collective disappearance of every other form of dramatic art before he ever wrote another play for Broadway. The Academy Award he had won for his screenwriting two years earlier seemed less like an affirmation of his talents than a solemn, faceless bookend to the Oscar he had received back in 1956: one statue to signify where the journey of a once-promising screenwriter started and the other to mark its termination.
It was not only the repeatedly obstructed ambition to have his work seen by audiences again that was bothering Chayefsky, although that was a concern. The mission that consumed him with unusual urgency was to say something universal and definitive, to make the lasting statement that the compass of his career had always pointed to and that would make him worthy of the attention he had commanded at his peak. Every rung he climbed on his way up had given Chayefsky a higher perch to see the world more clearly, and all he saw were problems he could not solve. At his Central Park West apartment awaited a wife who almost never ventured outside, as she suffered from a mysterious malady neither he nor any doctor could help with, and a self-destructive teenage son he could not understand. He feared constantly for his livelihood and was struggling with tax problems, while he watched with resigned astonishment as the city he called home and the country he loved appeared to be unraveling. Revolutions were springing up everywhere—politically, socially, artistically, cinematically—and he wanted no part of them.
Then there was television, a blossoming medium he had helped to define and popularize, with the potential for connecting every person on the planet in an instant. But in two quick decades it had become hopelessly, irrevocably corrupt, devaluing truth and alienating viewers from one another.
With so many threats stirring, it seemed irresponsible to Chayefsky for him to ignore them in his writing. Was he the only one who felt a growing risk of terrorist attacks by suicidal militants? Who saw a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hostility against Israel? Who felt the creeping influence of foreign powers—Arab powers—in the American economy? Yet the more frantically he sought to clarify the message he believed was being transmitted to him from a hundred different sources, the more certain he felt it was eluding him.
Take, for example, the screenplay that he had started researching a few months earlier. Having cast his gaze on the television business that had provided the springboard for his career, he had drawn up a roster of characters to populate the world of a fictional broadcasting company: producers, executives, underlings, corporate tycoons, political radicals, and a mentally unstable news anchor named Howard Beale. But Chayefsky could not determine how they fit together. Were they allegorical figures in a larger narrative about power and decadence, or were they just a bunch of grotesque caricatures? What did any of them have to do with the love story he was trying to thread through his script, and was that too conventional even to belong there?
Across the top of a piece of paper he had torn from a notebook, Chayefsky wrote in jagged capital letters nearly impaled by an aggressive underline: the show lacks a point of view. Then, in a gentler, pleading cursive handwriting, he filled both sides of that page with his unflinching self-analysis of the project, which he believed was drifting into chaos.
"I guess what bothers me is that the picture seems to have no ultimate statement beyond the idea that a network would kill for ratings," he wrote.
Most crucially, he wondered, what was he even trying to say in this screenplay? Were there identifiable sides to this argument, and whose side was he on? Because if he couldn’t answer that, what was he creating, if not more fuel for his pyre of curtailed efforts and unsatisfied aspirations?
"We are making some kind of statement about American society," he wrote, "and its lack of clarity is what’s bothering me—Even more, I’m not taking a stand—I’m not for anything or anyone—If we give Howard a speech at the end of the show, what would he say?"
Sometime later, on a piece of the blank yellow paper he more commonly used for his writing, Chayefsky started to answer this question by sketching out a few handwritten phrases: "I want you people to get mad—You don’t have to organize or vote for reformers—You just have to get mad."
Within months, Chayefsky would harness his boundless capacity for anger and channel it into his script for a motion picture called Network, investing it with all the angst, anxiety, and paranoia he had ever felt. The resulting film, released in 1976, would become a potent document, instantly incendiary and wildly popular.
Network was a bundle of contradictions, the last gasp of an era of populist Hollywood filmmaking as expressed by a man who never subscribed to the movement; it used the resources of one mass medium to indict another and, beyond it, the degradation and emptiness of contemporary American life. Network scandalized the television news business, inflaming the influential denizens who took more offense at the cartoonish portrayal of their world than its author intended or expected. But by arriving at a moment of maximal national frustration, the movie made itself the center of an argument about society and personal identity and inserted itself into the cultural lexicon, earning money, winning awards, and lifting its creator to new heights of acclaim.
The eerie and uncanny prescience of Network—dismissed in its day even by some of its admirers as an impossibly absurd satire—was not limited to the moment in which it made its portentous debut. Not only did it seem to foretell the tragic death of one of its lead performers; it provided a road map for the unraveling of the monolithic broadcasting companies, the diminishment of their once-mighty news operations, and the path to a fragmented and unrecognizable media environment that the industry would follow, almost to the letter, over the next forty years.
The film also carried a personal warning to Chayefsky, who spent most of his professional life fearing that the messages in his writing were not being received by their audiences. Network was indeed his magnum opus, and the last movie that he would willingly put his name on. It would cost him nearly everything to make it exactly as he wanted it to be, and when it was done it would leave him with a stark lesson about the ultimate price of self-expression.
Copyright © 2014 by Dave Itzkoff
Meet the Author
Dave Itzkoff is a culture reporter at The New York Times, where he writes regularly about film, television, theater, music, and popular culture. He has previously worked at Spin, Maxim, and Details, and his work has appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair, Wired, and other publications. He is the author of two previous books, Cocaine’s Son and Lads. He lives in New York City.
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