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Continuing our little homage to the screenwriting genius of Paddy Chayefsky, this scene comes about midway through the 1976 film Network.
The man seated at the table is Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch), the anchorman of the prime time news program on an ailing national TV network. His worsening depression results in him telling millions of viewers during a recent newscast that he’s “tired of all the bullshit”. He concludes by announcing he intends to commit suicide.
The network’s panicky reaction is neatly turned on its head by an ambitious programming executive, Diana Christensen (portrayed by Faye Dunaway). She skilfully convinces her superiors that most Americans out there are also “tired of all the bullshit” and that they readily identify with Beale’s rage. Let him keep articulating that rage every night, she argues, and everybody will want to watch it.
The head of the news department (Max Schumacher, played by William Holden) is Beale’s old comrade-in-arms. His spirited protests that allowing a lunatic to remain on the air violates every canon of responsible journalism fall on deaf ears. Beale’s obvious insanity – he claims to have conversations with God – is of no concern to the board of directors. They sense that Christensen’s radical idea to milk the anchorman’s madness for profit will succeed. The evening news then becomes a platform for Howard Beale to rant and rave about whatever issue is bugging him at the time. Christensen’s idea turns out to be right: the ratings skyrocket, prompting the other networks in turn to seek their own Howard Beales.
During one “news” program Beale urges his 60 million viewers to contact their congressmen to protest Saudi Arabian investors taking over a major American corporation. He’s convinced the takeover will have dire consequences for the U.S. economy. It’s at that point he’s summoned to the office of the network’s owner, Arthur Jensen (played by Ned Beatty).
Jensen’s lofty position has kept him aloof from the whole Beale controversy, since his only concern has been the network’s profitability. But Jensen has a vested interest in this Saudi takeover. He feels the urgent need to rein Beale in and teach him a few facts about the world of business, the most important of which is that the world itself is a business.
Beale must take this “evangel” – Jensen’s preacherly histrionics were quite deliberate – to heart. The owner’s final comment Because you’re on television, dummy refers directly to what the newsman had told everybody was the reply when Beale asked God the same Why me? question. Beale now becomes eager to spread Jensen’s philosophy to his vast television audience. But, as we see later in the movie, this all leads to several unintended consequences.