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"Because less than 3% of you people read books! Because less than 15% of you read newspapers! Because the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the Gospel, the ultimate revelation."
Howard Beale

Network is a 1976 satirical drama film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet. It is a harsh critique of (among other things) television and the short-attention-span culture over which it presides, the media in general and its pandering to the Lowest Common Denominator, the homogenization of American entertainment by giant conglomerates, and the executives who treat the nightly news as a profit center instead of a public service. Initially a skewering of the sensationalization of broadcast news already happening even then, the film became prescient of the state of the industry over the ensuing decades.

The film's main story centers around Howard Beale (Peter Finch), an evening news anchor at the struggling TV network Union Broadcasting System, or UBS. After being given two weeks notice that he's getting laid off due to declining ratings, Beale announces on a live newscast that he is going to kill himself. UBS fires him immediately, but Max Schumacher (William Holden), the head of the news department and Beale's best friend, protests; the network ultimately decides to give Beale one last broadcast, presumably so he can have a dignified farewell. Beale takes this opportunity and runs with it by launching into an on-air rant about how life is "bullshit" — which causes his ratings to skyrocket, prompting UBS to immediately renew his contract. During a subsequent broadcast, Beale preaches to his audience with the now-famous line "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!", which soon becomes his mantra. UBS quickly turns Beale's news program into a live talk show, with segments on gossip, astrology, and opinion polls — and Beale himself billed as the "mad prophet of the airwaves."

In the meantime, ambitious UBS programming executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) decides to capitalize on Beale's success, convincing ruthless network president Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) to merge the news and entertainment divisions so that she can manage Beale's show and create a new program, The Mao Tse-Tung Hour, aimed at the new audience that Beale is bringing in. She also enters a relationship with Schumacher, who must choose between her and his wife Louise (Beatrice Straight). Things get even more complicated when Beale delivers an on-air rant against an imminent deal to merge UBS' corporate parent with a Saudi Arabian conglomerate, which draws the attention of quasi-messianic company chairman Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty).

Nominated for ten Academy Awards, Network is notable as one of only three films (A Streetcar Named Desire and Everything Everywhere All at Once being the others) to win for three of the four acting categories: Finch won Best Actor posthumously (with Holden also getting nominated), while Dunaway and Straight won Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. (Beatty was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Jason Robards for All the President's Men). Chayefsky, meanwhile, won Best Original Screenplay.

The film was adapted into a stage play in 2017 starring Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Performance in a Leading Role by an Actor in a Play.

Compare A Face in the Crowd, another satire on mainstream media and media demagoguery from nearly 20 years prior, but nowhere near as cynical.

If you're searching for information on the various companies that broadcast television, see Networks.

"YOU have meddled with the primal Tropes of nature, and YOU! WILL! ATONE!" :

  • Actor Allusion: In the film, Max and Diana refer to their affair as "a many-splendored thing" - an inside joke, since William Holden had starred in Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Max Schumacher's wife, Louise, is understandably devastated upon learning that her husband has been carrying on an affair with Diana. However, when Max begins recounting how Diana has concocted a number of plot outlines for how their relationship will play out, one of which ends with Max killing himself, Louise can't help but be somewhat amused.
  • Adored by the Network: In-universe, Arthur Jensen forbids UBS from firing or taking Beale off the air after Beale starts preaching Jensen's ideology even though it's causing the network to have bad ratings.
  • All Part of the Show: The studio audience isn't horrified by Howard's Fainting at the end of his rants because they presumbaly view it as this. And no doubt it took a while for them to realize his assassination was genuine.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Diana mentions having seen a psychoanalyst for seven years and as a result, now has a father complex.
  • All There in the Manual: Before Paddy Chayefsky wrote the screenplay, he created extensive backstories for the main characters, and even drew up an entire weekly programming grid for UBS. Some of the network's programs were the drama Lady Cop, the sitcom Pedro and the Putz and the back-to-back game shows Celebrity Canasta and Celebrity Mah-Jongg. Very little of all this ended up in the finished film.
  • Answers to the Name of God: Implied by Jensen at the end of his rant/sermon.
    Beale: I have seen the face of God.
    Jensen: You just might be right, Mr. Beale.
  • Anti-Hero: All three of the leads. Howard Beale is a shining example of a Classical Anti-Hero.
  • Arc Words: "Fifty share" (talking about ratings),note  "mad as hell", etc.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Diana: You had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crime, sports, children with incurable diseases, and lost puppies.
  • Bad Boss: Hackett. How bad is he? He orders Beale assassinated because his ratings aren't high enough.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Max has Harry, Diana has Barbara. Both are the level-headed lieutenants who bear the brunt of the impulsive decisions of their bosses.
  • Betty and Veronica: For Max, his homely wife (Betty) vs. Ice Queen Diana (Veronica).
  • Black Comedy: For all its effective dramatic scenes, this is a brutally hilarious satire of the media that grows more prescient by the year.
  • Book Ends: The first and last shots of the movie are a four-way split screen of the four networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, and the movie's fictional UBS), with the narrator talking about Howard Beale.
  • Brick Joke:
    • "What are we going to call it, The Mao Tse-Tung Hour?"
    • As a subtle Call-Back: Max tells Howard a hilarious story about jumping out of bed, throwing his raincoat over his pajamas and rushing to report on a bridge. Guess what Howard Beale wears when he delivers his famous speech?
    • When Hackett fires Max, Max claims that Hackett will be fired in turn by Arthur Jensen for Howard Beale's outbursts. But Hackett argues that it would be stupid of Jensen to fire him over the only show that's getting good ratings on the network, and asserts that Jensen would tell him, "That's very good, Frank. Keep it up." Sure enough, after Hackett delivers his ratings report during a meeting later in the film, Jensen tells him, "Very good, Frank. Exemplary. Keep it up."
      • Which then gives an extra irony layer to the fact that Hackett eventually gets criticized by Jensen for suggesting to do precisely what the ratings demand.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Howard after getting fired, so much. He delivers the news in his pajamas.
  • Casting Gag: Mary Ann Gifford is played by Kathy Cronkite, daughter of Howard Beale's CBS rival Walter Cronkite.
  • Character Filibuster: Every main character gets at least one, and most of Beale's appearances on TV are to deliver filibusters.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Ecumenical Liberation Army. Literally.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Howard in full rant mode, Jensen in full preaching mode, and Louise finally exploding at Max, which even earned Beatrice Straight an Oscar despite only five minutes of screen time.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Beale tries to spell out to his audience that television is manipulating them and says, "We'll lie like hell". It doesn't get through to them.
  • Cool Old Guy: The president of the network, until he's replaced by Hackett.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Frank Hackett couldn't care less about the condition of Howard Beale (or anyone else) as long as the ratings keep coming in. When Diana is asked whether she and Hackett are having an affair, she laughs it off with, "Frank Hackett has no loves, lusts or allegiances that are not directly related to becoming a CCA board member. I'm not even a stockholder."
  • Crapsack World: Beale's (in)famous "I'm as mad as hell" speech is a several-minute diatribe about how the world has gone straight to hell and what pisses him off even more is that people have put their heads in the sand and done nothing about it. Worse yet, it's a hell of a ratings booster but people still do nothing about it, and it opens a precedent for increasingly sociopathic network ideas, culminating with (by the time the film ends) abetting terrorists and using them as killers for hire.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-universe, as Howard Beale has a nervous breakdown on live television that the network encourages.
  • Deadline News: Beale threatens to kill himself during a live news broadcast. Later, the network executives have Beale assassinated on-air since his ratings are declining and the chairman refuses to cancel his show.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Howard Beale is assassinated on air for declining ratings on his show and a refusal by the network chairman to cancel it.
  • Downer Ending: "This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings."
  • Dramatic Thunder: During the "I'm mad as hell" scene.
  • Driven to Suicide: Howard, almost.
    Howard Beale: I would like at this moment to announce that I will be retiring from this program in two weeks time because of poor ratings. Since this show is the only thing I had going for me in my life, I've decided to kill myself. I'm going to blow my brains out right on this program a week from today. So tune in next Tuesday. That should give the public relations people a week to promote the show. You ought to get a hell of a rating out of that. Fifty share, easy.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Every single character in this film is screwed up in their own way.
  • Eagleland: One of the most nihilistic Type Twos ever seen. Although honestly, the film is just as applicable in Europe or Asia as it is in America:
    Jensen: There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and Du Pont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon.
  • Easy Evangelism: Jensen converts Beale to his (completely opposed) philosophy with one speech. He does cheat a bit, by stealing lines from the original "revelation" as Beale had earlier related it on his show.
  • Emotionless Girl: Diana, in Max's opinion. See "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Arthur Jensen.
    Arthur Jensen: YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature and YOU! WILL! ATONE!
    • This was such an iconic moment for Ned Beatty that when he died in 2021, Turner Classic Movies used it in their yearender TCM Remembers clipreel.
  • Executive Meddling:
    • An in-universe example. Jensen convinces Beale to drop his fiery populist message because he's railing against a merger of CCA (the corporation that owns UBS) with a Saudi Arabian conglomerate — a merger that the deeply-in-debt UBS needs to stay afloat. All he really does is explain his own philosophy in terms Beale instantly accepts. The message is still just as fiery, he just switches sides.
    • Twice, a decision to fire Beale is overruled by executives higher on the ladder. The second time the network responds by deciding to murder Beale rather than keep him on the air.
  • Expy: Like Chayefsky's earlier screenplays for The Americanization of Emily and The Hospital, the main trio of characters consists of: a once-ambitious man working for a large institution who's turned into a burned-out cynic with a chaotic personal life, a beautiful woman he falls for whose poised exterior covers up the fact that she's also messed-up, and an older respected man who's become mentally ill and is prone to delusions.
  • Freak Out: Beale's having a nervous breakdown on live television. Instead of getting him the help he needs, his bosses encourage it, and he eventually goes completely Coo-Coo.
  • Foreshadowing: In the first five minutes Beale and Schumacher joke about putting murders, suicides and terrorists on the air.
  • George Jetson Job Security: In Diana's debut scene:
    Diana: And, by the way, the next time I send an audience research report around, you'd all better read it, or I'll sack the fucking lot of you, is that clear?
  • Get Out!: Said by the wife in the breakup scene in the kitchen.
  • Grand Inquisitor Scene: The confrontation between Howard Beale and Arthur Jensen.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Beale. All of his rants are about how the world has gone straight to hell and everybody's got a part in it.
  • Happily Married: Max and his wife have a happy marriage, although it takes him until the end of the film to realize it.
  • The Hero Dies: Beale gets machine-gunned by terrorists on live television as a ratings stunt.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Laureen Hobbs, though she despises capitalist organizations, agrees to work with UBS to spread the Communist message and get money for the Party. By the end of the film, her group has become so intertwined with the network that it's hard to tell the two apart.
  • Hidden Depths: Admit it, you didn't expect that from Arthur "Very-good-keep-it-up" Jensen.
  • High-Powered Career Woman: Diana Christensen is a darkly amoral example.
  • The Horseshoe Effect: Jensen's utopian vision of the globalist future goes so far into idealized capitalism that it's functionally identical to idealized communism. Everyone together working for one giant corporation that fulfills every human need where everyone owns a single share of stock.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: Beale criticizes television while on television. At the end of his speech, he orders his viewers to turn their television sets off.
  • Ice Queen: Diana. She's every bit as sociopathic as all other executives that appear (barring Max, and even he's no saint).
  • Ignored Epiphany: Near the very end, after discussing having Howard killed, Hacket has a small moment where he then asks if anyone else has another idea as to how they'll get rid of Beale, seemingly realizing just how twisted and extreme their solution is. Unfortunately, his question is presented so passively that it seems while he is indeed hesitant to go through with it, he either doesn't care enough to stop it, or is too uncomfortable to go up against everyone else who’ve now sided with his idea, which is carried out.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The opening credits list the title as Network by Paddy Chayefsky. When the screenwriter is also co-producing, he can get away with things like that.
  • Karma Houdini: The entire successful conspiracy to murder Howard Beale.
  • Kent Brockman News: Played for Drama, as it's a sign that Beale is in the midst of a full-fledged invoked Creator Breakdown — one that the UBS executives are more than happy to feed, given the ratings spike that resulted from it. Once the executives realize that his unhinged rants are bringing in better ratings than "serious" reporting ever was, they wind up turning their news department into a three-ring circus and retooling their nightly news program into an opinion/Variety Show hosted by a Hot-Blooded Beale, while the rest of UBS' programming is taken over by increasingly trashy reality shows (avant le lettre, as this movie was made in 1976).
  • Large Ham: Almost every main character, with Peter Finch's Howard Beale being the mightiest of them all. Enforced with Jensen, who deliberately emulates Beale himself to manipulate him.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Max says that the younger woman he's having an affair with can only relate to reality through television. She imagines their affair as a drama/tragedy, but he doesn't know if she expects a happy ending where he returns to his wife or not. He says all this in a conversation with his wife two-thirds of the way through the movie, which he refers to as the second act of a drama.
  • Love Triangle: Diana/Max/Louise.
  • Lowest Common Denominator: In-universe, this is the target audience of UBS after Beale's news show becomes a hit.
  • Married to the Job: Most obviously Diana, but Frank (and, before retirement, Max) is also a workaholic who seemingly has no other interests in life as lampshaded by Diana herself.
  • May–December Romance: Between Diana and Max.
  • Memetic Mutation: Happens in-universe to Beale's "mad as Hell" speech, as people all over the world take up the cry. It's such a famous scene, it's become susceptible to Memetic Mutation in Real Life as well.
  • Misaimed Fandom: An in-universe example. While Howard is sympathetic, it's pretty clear that he's having a mental breakdown during his "mad as hell" speech. The movie then goes on to show why network television empowering and commercializing his populist rage is a bad thing. Keep that in mind the next time you hear a pundit on network television saying they're "mad as hell".
  • Ms. Exposition: A novel use of this as a way define a character. Diana's chatter to Max on their romantic evening together about the problems with The Mao Tse-Tung Hour gets the audience up to speed on that subplot, but the mere fact that she's obsessing about all this, even during and after having sex with the man she's fallen in love with, shows us how Married to the Job she is.
  • Money, Dear Boy: In-universe, the only reason anyone does anything at UBS is for ratings, including keeping Howard on the air at all, and then killing him. It's even put forth by Diana that UBS could use the on-air assassination for the opener for the next season of the Mao-Tse Tung Hour.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: Max's (verbatim) reaction after Diana shares her ideas for "improving" the news broadcasts.
  • Narrator: One that provides certain facts such as the statistical meteoric rise of The Howard Beale Show and finishes off with "this was the story of Howard Beale: the first man who died because of lousy ratings."
  • Network Decay: In-universe, what eventually occurs to UBS (the ratings are high, but the quality...).
  • New Media Are Evil: A large theme is that television can warp viewers’ reality by making them accept what they see as the truth. Max even cites this as one of Diana's problems—she was raised watching TV, so she expects Real Life to play out like a TV episode. There's also been fair criticism that Chayefsky's notions of what American television was like in The '70s weren't totally grounded in reality and he was making a Strawman argument. One of Beale's examples of the dishonesty of TV is that "Nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker's house." In fact, All in the Family had already done an episode where Edith finds a lump in her breast in 1973.note 
  • Newhart Phonecall: There are a few in the film, but perhaps the most dramatic one is when a furious Arthur Jensen calls Frank Hackett after the broadcast where Howard Beale tells the public to send protest letters to the White House over the middle east deal. We only hear Frank's side of the conversation, which mostly consists of "take it easy!" and such.
  • Newscaster Cameo: CBS's Walter Cronkite, NBC's John Chancellor, and ABC's Howard K. Smith are all shown on TV monitors (via stock footage) along with Howard Beale during the opening narration.
  • News Monopoly: After Howard is assassinated on-air, the camera pans out from a single monitor depicting the immediate aftermath of the event to a row of monitors featuring multiple news networks reporting on what just happened. One by one, they all turn off until the viewer is again left with the single frame of Howard's dead body.
  • N-Word Privileges:
    Diana: Hi. I'm Diana Christensen, a racist lackey of the imperialist ruling circles.
    Laureen: I'm Laureen Hobbs, a badass commie nigger.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Mary Ann Gifford and her captors, the Ecumenical Liberation Army, bear a suspicious resemblance to Patty Hearst and her kidnappers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, with The Great Ahmed Khan as a takeoff on the SLA's leader, Donald "Field Marshal Cinque" DeFreeze, who cultivated a Scary Black Man persona. Lampshaded by Diana and Bill.
      Diana: The Ecumenical Liberation Army, that's not the one that kidnapped Patty Hearst?
      Bill: No, no, that's the Symbionese Liberation Army. This is the Ecumenical Liberation Army. They're the ones that kidnapped Mary Ann Gifford three weeks ago. There's a hell of a lot of Liberation Armies in the revolutionary underground, and a lot of kidnapped heiresses.
    • Similarly, Laureen Hobbs stands in for '70s communist firebrand Angela Davis.
    • Diana is rumored to be based on an NBC exec at the time, Lin Bolen, who obsessed over ratings every minute of the day.note 
    • Howard Beale's threatened on-air suicide echoes Christine Chubbuck's real one. Paddy Chayefsky was already working on the screenplay when it happened, and the similarity was just a meaningful coincidence, but in one draft written after the Chubbuck incident he had Beale mention that his planned suicide would be like "that girl in Florida".
    • Chayefsky reportedly told interviewers that Arthur Jensen was meant to evoke Theodore Roosevelt, with his stocky build and big mustache, and his rather old fashioned notions of capitalism as the driving force of society.
    • In the early outlines of the story, Chayefsky rather unsubtly gave the proto-Howard Beale character the name Kronkheit.
  • No Such Thing as Bad Publicity: Invoked in-universe, after Hackett fires Schumacher and tells him he's following Diana Christensen's suggestion of merging the network's news and entertainment divisions:
    Schumacher: I'm gonna spread this whole reeking business in every newspaper, on every network, group and affiliate in this country. I'm gonna make a lot of noise about this.
    Hackett: Great! We need all the press we can get!
  • Not-So-Badass Longcoat: Howard's trench coat is old and battered and in the iconic "mad as hell" scene, he's wearing it over his pajamas.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • According to Jensen, there is no difference between America and any other nation: they all care about money.
      Arthur Jensen: We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a collage of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business."
    • When Diana first approaches Schumacher about her ideas to add more showbiz to the news and he balks, she gives him a version of this.
      Diana Christensen: I watched your six o'clock news today; it's straight tabloid. You had a minute and a half of that lady riding a bike naked in Central Park; on the other hand, you had less than a minute of hard national and international news. It was all sex, scandal, brutal crime, sports, children with incurable diseases, and lost puppies. So, I don't think I'll listen to any protestations of high standards of journalism when you're right down on the streets soliciting audiences like the rest of us.
  • Oh, Crap!: Hackett gives a delicious one when he learns Beale lambasted the Arab deal on the air.
  • One-Liner Echo: People all over the world repeat the "Mad as Hell" punch-line of Beale's speech in agreement.
  • The Only Believer: Mary Ann Gifford, ironically given that she's a rich heiress who the Ecumenical Liberation Army kidnapped and brainwashed. During the contract negotiations with UBS, she interrupts and gives Laureen a "The Reason You Suck" Speech accusing her of selling out her ideals for the network's money.
  • Only in It for the Money: After beginning the movie as a dyed-in-the-wool communist, Laureen Hobbs has become this by the end. It's a strange example, because she's still a communist, but Diana convinces her that she can only advance her cause by gaining money and influence, which requires working with the network. And once she starts compromising with the corporate agenda, it tends to take over everything.
  • Only Sane Man: Schumacher to a degree, as even though he too is a flawed character, he's one of the only people to recognize Beale's descent into madness and call out the network's exploitation of it.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Peter Finch tries for an East Coast/mid-Atlantic accent as Howard, but his natural Aussie accent comes through in a few scenes.
  • Pompous Political Pundit: Beale is a more heroic example than most, though he's still quite pompous and arguably insane. His politics are also less explicitly left- or right-wing, instead being a broader "mad as hell" populism.
  • Precision F-Strike: Quite a few F-bombs get dropped, but this one stands out.
    Secretary: Mr. Hackett's trying to get through to you.
    Max: Tell Mr. Hackett to go fuck himself.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: AND YOU. WILL. ATONE!
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Max makes it clear to Diana that for all her purported success, she's doomed to live a cold, empty existence devoid of human connection. Diana admits he's right and begs Max to stay with her, but Max wants nothing to do with her anymore.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Howard Beale was already getting tired of the world and everything in it, but once he gets notified that he's going to be fired, he finally snaps and delivers an incredibly blistering rant on-air about how the world is bullshit and he plans to end his stay in it soon, leading to the rest of the plot.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: Like he did with Dog Day Afternoon, Sidney Lumet increases the tension by not having a non-diegetic score. There is original music, but it's used as theme music for the various in-universe TV shows.
  • Reality Show: The Mao Tse-Tung Hour, a show chronicling the exploits of a group of leftist domestic terrorists.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Schumacher gives Diana one of these when he breaks up with her.
      Schumacher: You're television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering. Insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death. All the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You're madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you.
    • Louise delivers one to Max when he tells her about his ongoing affair with Diana. She rips him to pieces over his infidelity, but makes it clear that she still loves him. Max is obviously deeply wounded by her reaction.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Seemingly the entire raison d'etre of UBS' programming under Diana Christensen.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Howard tries to quit his job more than once, but he's not allowed to for various reasons. Until the network decides to kill him.
  • Running Gag: The scene in Diana's office where they're reading submitted pitches for television shows. You'll lose count of the times that characters are said to be either "brilliant", "beautiful" and "crusty but benign". Truth in Television, anyone?
  • Sanity Slippage: After Beale has a nervous breakdown on live television, instead of getting him the help he needs, his bosses cruelly encourage it, and he eventually fully loses it.
  • Scary Black Man: The Great Ahmed Khan. Subverted in that he portrays himself as a criminal mastermind, but when he appears onscreen in person he's eating fried chicken and seems kind of dimwitted — Laureen compares him to Archie Bunker! — or at least very laid-back. Even during the big argument in the contract discussion, where he quietly pulls out a gun and fires into the air to shut everybody up, then calmly says "Give her the fucking overhead clause. Let's get to page twenty-two, 5(a), subsidiary rights..."
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Because the network is buying film from a terrorist group of them robbing banks, the government is threatening to indict the network for conspiracy to commit crimes. Diana isn't worried, their lawyer will argue every possible defense including the First Amendment, right to protect sources, and even if they lose it will take years to wind through the courts.
  • Screwed by the Network: In-universe, the executives have Beale killed due to his show's declining ratings.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Howard Beale, all the way.
    Doorman: Good afternoon, Mr. Beale.
    Howard: I must make my witness!
    Doorman: Sure thing, Mr. Beale.
  • Serious Business: Evidently, poor ratings are enough for the network executives to have a man assassinated.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Paddy Chayefsky's fondness for florid language plays itself out over the course of the film. In Chayefsky's world, a corporate stooge like Frank Hackett drops such phrases as "intractable and adamantine" into staff meetings.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: While Howard's mental stability went down the drain, he did keep his job and didn't end up shooting himself on air. It doesn't stop corporate from killing him.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Howard Beale's last name was chosen in honor of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale of Grey Gardens fame. "Howard" was for the film's producer, Howard Gottfried.
    • Max Schumacher was named after Hal Schumacher, a baseball pitcher who Paddy Chayefsky had admired when he was a kid.
  • Shown Their Work: Chayefsky did extensive research, visiting the three networks, shadowing the head of NBC's news division for a few days, and interviewing Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Played deadly straight (as befits a film this cynical):
    Nelson: Well, I don't want any part of it. I don't fancy myself the president of a whorehouse.
    Hackett: That's very commendable of you, Nelson. Now sit down. Your indignation is duly noted; you can always resign tomorrow.
    • And to add insult to injury, Nelson never actually resigns.
  • Single Tear: Shed by Louise after she yells at Max.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress on the basis of one What the Hell, Hero? speech in her third (and final) scene of the film. All told she's only onscreen for 5 minutes and 27 seconds (if you don't include the camera panning away from her or cuts away from her in her scenes).note 
    • Similarly, Ned Beatty was nominated for Best Supporting Actor on the basis of his one real scene, which consists almost entirely of his epic filibuster to Beale, and has only a minute or so more screen time.
  • The Sociopath: Considering it deals with network executives, quite a few characters qualify, but none more so than Diana. Chillingly demonstrated in the second-to-last scene, when Frank tosses out the idea of killing Howard as half-serious Deadpan Snark, but Diana unemotionally brainstorms a way to do it. Then when Frank still seems hesitant about the whole idea — "Shall we kill Howard Beale or not? I'd like to hear some more opinions on that" — Diana shuts down the discussion with a curt "I don't see we have any options, Frank. Let's kill the son of a bitch."
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The narrator has a very grave and solemn tone at all times and mostly speaks formally. But at the end of his first narration he goes "The two old friends got properly pissed."
  • Speed Sex: Diana is a very rare female version. She warns Max beforehand that she is "masculine" in the bed and climaxes quickly... and lord, she does.
  • Stealth Pun: Immediately following the first scene of The Howard Beale Show, where Beale is introduced as the mad prophet of the airwaves, Hackett states to the Board of Directors that his section is "the most significant profit center of the communications complex", with special emphasis on the word profit.
  • Strawman News Media: Of the vapid/lurid variety, later degenerating into outright corporate-controlled content when Jensen silences Beale's criticism of his corporation's merger with a Saudi conglomerate.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Max Schumacher in the second half. Though Howard's actions drive the plot, most of the second half is told from Max's perspective.
  • There Are No Good Executives: Nearly all of them are portrayed as greedy, amoral bastards except Chaney, who seems to be a decent guy but stopped trying to fight the corruption simply because he knows he can't win; and Ruddy, the CEO of UBS, is also portrayed as being offended by Beale's rants and the exploitation of them by Hackett and Christiansen. He keeps Beale on the air with the notion that Beale's inevitable collapse will damage Hackett's reputation. But Ruddy has a heart attack, dies, and is replaced by Hackett before this can happen. May or may not apply to Jensen; he's just as passionate as Beale, but on the opposite side.
  • There Are No Therapists: For Howard, at least. Max says that he needs "care and treatment" but the network executives prevent it because they don't want to lose their hit show.
  • This Is Reality: Max reminds Diana that this isn't one of her television drama scripts, it's real life.
  • Too Bleak, Stopped Caring: In-universe: When Howard Beale modifies his rants to be more nihilistic:
    Narrator: It was a perfectly admissible argument that Howard Beale advanced in the days that followed. It was, however, also a very depressing one. Nobody particularly cared to hear his life was utterly valueless. By the end of the first week in June, the Howard Beale Show dropped one point in the ratings and its trend of shares dipped under 48 for the first time since last November.
  • Tragic Hero: Beale, who in his autumn years just wanted to be done with all the bullshit, and ended up promoting it. And who dies in the end.
  • Visionary Villain: Arthur Jensen seems to be motivated beyond simply being a Corrupt Corporate Executive into something intensely ideological.
    Jensen: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it!
  • Villain Has a Point: Arthur Jensen's speech where he converts Beale to his point of view is actually a fairly decent defense of financial globalism as a force for good (at least as opposed to protectionist isolationism). It helps that he deliberately copies Beale's style.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The Communist Party and the ECF can't stand each other, apparently. They collaborate anyway for the ratings.
  • Western Terrorists: The leftist guerrilla group that The Mao Tse-Tung Hour follows, and who kill Beale on orders from the executives.

"All I know is that first you've got to get mad! You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!'"