Kruse and Zelizer: It's 'Network' nation: How our media became overrun by polarization, outrage and attitude

tags: CNN, media, press

Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer are professors of history at Princeton University.

On Broadway, Bryan Cranston is performing to sold-out audiences in the stage revival of “Network.” Reprising the classic role of television news anchorman Howard Beale, Cranston plays an aging anchor who revives his career by learning that outrage sells.

Informed that he is going to be replaced due to poor ratings, Beale tells his audience that he is going to commit suicide. His threat to kill himself brings viewers alive. The network’s executives seize the moment and capitalize on his anger, letting him go on the air every night to rant and rave about world events.

“I’m mad as hell,” Beale yells, “and I’m not going to take this anymore.” In the theater, the audience joins the actor and the action of the show.

The current play and the original film are clever parodies of the news industry. When the movie debuted in 1976, audiences were entertained by its prediction of a dark future of the evening news — a dystopia driven by commercialized, sensationalized, and celebrity-driven formats for delivering information.

At the time, ABC anchorwoman Barbara Walters insisted, “There’ll never be that kind of show-biz approach to the news. The entertainment side of television is more respectful of the news side than at any time in the past.”

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