After the retrospective screening, David Letterman’s successor led a discussion with Dave Itzkoff, author of “Mad As Hell,” about the making of the classic 1976 film, which predicted that television ratings wars would drive broadcast networks away from serious news.
The biggest laugh of the evening came after Itzkoff described why the Oscar-winning movie penned by Paddy Chayefsky was in fact visionary.
“This (film) is the story of a man who developed a certain voice that allowed him to reach an audience and then as soon as he got the opportunity to move on to a different show, he just dropped that persona at the behest of his corporate masters,” the author said. “It’s a dark satire.”
While the audience roared with laughter, Colbert grinned before commenting, “That’s an interesting take.”
Colbert went on to speak about the issues discussed in pic, including gun control, guerillas, terrorists, mad bombers, Barbara Walters specials and how they still apply to today’s television landscape.
Itzkoff added that even this year’s Oscar kudofest took a page from the movie.
“Think about the ‘mad as hell’ speech (in ‘Network’) and the scene where everybody runs to their window just because a guy on TV told them to do it,” Itzkoff said. “I hate to be so sort of cynical in a Paddy Chayefsky way, but think about Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars and telling everyone to retweet a selfie and everyone just does it because someone on TV told them to.”
“I did,” Colbert deadpanned.
The soon to be “Late Show” host discussed the issue of Faye Dunaway’s character wanting more angry, countercultural shows.
“The angriest shows today are conservative shows,” Colbert said. “That’s what I model. I model the anger of conservatives or people who believe the status quo and are afraid it’s going to change. The anger at the time (when the movie was made) was the fear that something wasn’t going to change.”
“In some ways Chayefsky was very fearful of social change,” Itzkoff said. “He was not only concerned about what was going to happen to television and mass media but what was going to happen to the American populace.”
Colbert said in the current media landscape, it’s Keith Olbermann who reminds him most of Howard Beale.
“When I was watching (the film) I was thinking who do I know, who have I interviewed in the media, who reminds me of Howard Beale,” Colbert said. “And it’s when they first try to drag (Beale) away from the studio and he’s punching the people who are trying to take him away, I thought, ‘That’s Keith!'”
Despite the film’s success, 10 Academy Award nods and four wins, Itzkoff said that Chayefksy was frustrated by the reception of the film and the catchphrase “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
“He went to his death believing that nobody really understood what he was trying to say with the film,” Itzkoff said.