The Mad Prophet Returns
– by David Matthews 2
The other day I had this idea that I pitched to a friend-of-a-friend who knew someone in Hollywood.
I told him that since Hollywood has been on a kick on recycling and remaking old classics like “Star Trek” and “Friday the 13th”, that maybe it was time to remake one of the most memorably satirical movies around…
“Network,” I said.
“Huh?” he asked as he scratched his head. “Network what? Is this supposed to be some geek thing?”
I suddenly realized that I was speaking to someone who wasn’t even born when this Oscar-winning 1976 film came out. I cursed myself for being old enough to actually remember it.
“No, no,” I explained, “it was a movie starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, and Ned Betty. It was about a fictional TV network.”
He tilted his head a bit as if to suggest that this had piqued his curiosity. “Go on,” he said.
“It starts off with this old-school network news producer having to fire his best friend and long-time news anchor because of low ratings. The anchor then goes on the air and announces that he was being let go and that he would be killing himself on the air on his last broadcast day.”
“Does he do it?” asked the Hollywood guy.
“No,” I replied. “He gets talked out of killing himself, but he then goes off on this rant about how television is crap… well actually that’s not the word he used… and once he does, the ratings start to soar.”
“So the network executives keep him around,” he speculated.
“Yes,” I said. “Especially after he has a nervous breakdown and claims to have had a conversation with God. At one point he even gets the audience to open up their windows and shout that they’re mad as hell and that they weren’t going to take it anymore.”
“I think I’ve heard that line before,” the Hollywood guy said. “So that’s where it came from!”
I nodded. “Right. The anchor’s name was Howard Beale. Anyway, the executives decide to turn the whole news division over to the entertainment branch, and they transform Beale’s news show into this big entertainment program, and they dub him the ‘Mad Prophet of the Airwaves’.”
At that point I saw that the figurative wheels were starting to turn in his head. This could be either good or bad.
I continued with the summary. “The entertainment producer decides to broker a deal with some political extremist group so they could cause havoc and boost the ratings of the new show. They believe that keeping people afraid will help them stay tuned to the network.”
His optimistic look started to fade. I began to worry.
“So what happened to this show?” he asked.
“According to the narrator, it became the most-watched show in television history,” I said. “And Beale went on and on about any kind of subject that piqued his interest before collapsing in front of the cameras, much to the glee of the studio audience. Unfortunately one of his targets turned out to be the network itself, and he began to talk about the network’s new partners in Saudi Arabia. This led to a confrontation with the network president, and he leads Beale to a new sermon about the joys of capitalism. Unfortunately when he starts preaching all about capitalism, his ratings begin to slide, the entertainment producer has the extremist group kill him on the air.”
This was not turning out well. I could see from the look on his face that he didn’t like how it ends.
“But I think we can fix this,” I quickly said. “Maybe in our remake we can give a powerful ending. Maybe we can start with him already as a corporate tool for the advertisers. Maybe instead of him having a nervous breakdown, he can sell the idea of being a ‘Mad Prophet of the Airwaves’ to a cable news channel, and they decide go with it so that they can hide any look into their foreign investors.”
I was losing him. I could see it.
“And…” I started reaching. “Maybe… maybe the big climax would be the media trying to make him go away and instead he uses the extremist group to organize a huge rally… and we see him in Washington and…”
He gestured with his hand for me to turn around and look at the wall behind me.
There on the flat-screen TV was a live broadcast from a certain foreign-owned cable news channel, one sometimes accused of mixing news and “entertainment”. One of their biggest media personalities, a man known for his outlandish and “prophet-like” rhetoric, was speaking in front of a huge rally in Washington DC, and the common message amongst the followers was that they were “mad as hell and they weren’t going to take it anymore”.
Obviously my idea for a remake of “Network” never got the green light. Because let’s get brutally honest here… it’s a little hard to come up with a remake of that classic movie that would be better than the one that Glenn Beck and FoxNews are delivering in the real world.