In the 1976 film Network, veteran anchorman Howard Beale breaks down on live TV after finding out he’s being fired for not bringing in enough viewers. When his very public unraveling makes his show’s ratings skyrocket, the executives at the network he works for, UBS, second-guess their decision to let Beale go.
Over time, Beale’s rantings get the attention of Arthur Jensen, the Head of UBS, who is not pleased with what Beale is sharing with his avid viewers. Jensen calls Beale into his office and gives an epic, five-minute speech that starts with, “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!”
In FST’s Regional Premiere production of Network, a theatrical adaptation of the original film by Lee Hall, native Floridian Roy Stanton plays Jensen and is tasked with bringing one of the play’s best-known speeches to life eight times a week. We sat down with Roy Stanton to discuss his love/hate relationship with television, how the film Network made a mark on his life, and what he appreciates most about Lee Hall’s adaptation.
Do you have a personal connection to the 1976 film Network?
As a child of the ’60s and ’70s, I was well aware of Network when it was released because it seemed to be a topic of conversation among a lot of the adults I knew. At family gatherings, my parents might end up discussing the film with various aunts and uncles. The overall impression of Network I got from them was that they found it funny and entertaining, but also disturbing. Back then, I wasn’t quite sure why that was the case, but now, years later, I can readily see why. I understand why they might have been shaken them up by the film’s message of television’s dehumanizing effect on the population, and the place of corporations in deciding what we as a culture “wanted” to watch.
You play Arthur Jensen, Head of the fictional network, UBS, and get to perform one of the production’s most memorable and impactful monologues. Why is Jensen’s pivotal speech so significant, both within the world of the play and to society in general?
For me, his speech reveals how a corporate entity seeks to subsume or discard the humanistic sensibilities involved in not only television media, but life in general. It really is an almost evangelical philosophy wherein everything everyone does is all for the good of the corporation, and that good translates into profit. But at what cost to the individuals who toil for that profit? Individuality itself? In some ways, the speech seems to say that the corporation is the new “body,” and the humans who are part of it are merely just that, “parts.” Humans are like cells, which have no identity other than their relation to the larger whole of the corporation. Sure, the people will be cared for, and all their needs will be met, but they will always be subservient to the larger good of the corporation.
What appeals to you most about Lee Hall’s adaptation of Network?
What I really love about Lee Hall’s adaptation is how closely it stays to Paddy Chayefsky’s original screenplay. There’s no dilution of the satire or the message that was originally present, but the production is lean, tight, and moves at a very satisfying pace. The script really captured my attention the first time I read it, and got me excited about the possibilities of staging Network as a play.
Is there anything you’d like the audience to know before seeing Network?
I, like most of my generation, have a love/hate relationship with television. I missed the “Golden Era” of TV in the 1950s. As a kid in the mid-to-late ’60s and ’70s, I watched a great number of TV shows that were very popular, though not critically acclaimed, along with a few shows that set hallmarks of excellence for drama and comedy. As a result, I find myself constantly comparing the memories I have of enjoying TV as a kid to what’s available to watch today.
Network showed us an accurate prediction of what I regard as “wasteland” television— TV driven solely for profit and appealing to the lowest common denominator. However, new media outlets and various streaming services have offered a space where, again, some amazing content can be presented. This is where the “love/hate” feeling I have for TV is most evident, and it’s probably why I’ll never swear off watching it completely, even though I’ve been advised to do so since I was a kid by parents, teachers, and anyone who thinks “they know better.”
Due to popular demand, Network was held over and played through March 26, 2023, in FST’s Gompertz Theatre.