Great Scene: “Network”

“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

The WGA has an annual honor called The Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award. And even though it’s for writers who work in TV, where Chayefsky ruled during its so-called “Golden Age,” there is no piece of writing that displays Chayefsky’s brilliance than this famous monologue in the movie Network (1976). In this scene, newscaster Howard Beale (Peter Finch) goes on a tirade about contemporary life that is as relevant today as it was over 30 years ago.

Notice how the dialogue builds from Howard seated behind the desk, almost as if someone confessing something. Then the pivot point, “Well, I’m not going to leave you alone,” where Howard turns from confessor to prophet letting loose with his clarion call: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Watch Finch who gives an incredible performance in this scene:

Now that is a great scene!

And doesn’t it seem like TV programmer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) would fit into today’s world filled with reality TV?

I’m sure someone will be tempted to comment about the length of Howard’s dialogue. For instance, his first side — setting aside the SD that breaks it up — is 59 lines long. I doubt there’s a screenwriting guru or script reader alive who would — in theory at least — acknowledge that writing a 59 line monologue is a good idea. However, two things. First, Chayefsky was a consummate wordsmith, especially his dialogue, so he could do anything he wanted to do. But the second thing is about the individuality of our stories. And if our story requires a character to go on a 59 line monologue, then we, as writers, have the right to let them do that. We also have the responsibility to make sure those 59 lines are damn good lines!

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