‘Network’ remains tuned into the TV business

TCM shows Oscar-winning satire in William Holden tribute

Peter Finch

When it was released in 1976, “Network” largely was considered a satire … but now, not as much. Writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet’s searing, Oscar-winning look at the media — being presented Tuesday, Aug. 9, by Turner Classic Movies in a “Summer Under the Stars” day saluting William Holden — was a remarkable forecast of developments in the television industry, most notably the lessening of the line between news and entertainment.

Howard Beale, the depressed chief anchorman of the fictional UBS network (brilliantly portrayed by Peter Finch, in a performance honored with a posthumous Academy Award) declares he’s going to commit suicide on the air … prompting bosses including news director Max Schumacher (Holden) to remove him, until his ratings show an immediate, enormous spike. Desperate-for-a-hit UBS entertainment chief Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway, another Oscar winner here) then inserts herself into the process and takes over the news program. Simply, “Network” is smart and superb.

More Retro Rewinds

“The Andy Griffith Show” (MeTV, Monday, Aug. 8): It might be a little late for Christmas in July, but the yuletide is celebrated in August by a repeat of this sitcom’s “Christmas Story” from its first season. Andy (Griffith) has to deal with a moonshiner on the holiday, and he finds a unique way to do so by “arresting” the man’s family — leading to second thoughts on the part of the cranky fellow who pressed the matter.

“Backdraft” (AMC, Tuesday, Aug. 9): The pyrotechnics and stunt work remain amazing in director Ron Howard’s 1991 drama of Chicago firefighters, two of whom are extremely competitive siblings (Kurt Russell and William Baldwin, both credited here with doing their own very perilous stunts). An apparent arsonist on the loose doesn’t ease the near-continual tension between them; also in the expert cast are Robert De Niro, Scott Glenn and Donald Sutherland.

“Pulp Fiction” (TNT, Tuesday, Aug. 9): Frequently violent and profane in its original form, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 drama became — and remains — a critical favorite in weaving several crime-based stories together. As a self-styled hit man, John Travolta generates some legendary scenes with fellow stars Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson; cast members also include Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer and Rosanna Arquette.

“S.W.A.T.” (Decades, Saturday, Aug. 13): As many television devotees know, CBS’ current Shemar Moore-starring action series is an update of this 1970s show — shown here in a most-of-weekend “Binge” — with Steve Forrest as “Hondo” Harrelson, the leader of an elite police unit specially trained to defuse crises. The cast also includes Robert Urich, who had further TV success by starring in “Vega$” and “Spenser: For Hire,” and later “Barnaby Jones” co-star Mark Shera.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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