Writes Roger Ebert in a October 29, 2000 review:
"…Strange, how Howard Beale, "the mad prophet of the airwaves," dominates our memories of "Network." We remember him in his soaking-wet raincoat, hair plastered to his forehead, shouting, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." The phrase has en tered into the language.
"But Beale (Peter Finch) is the movie's sideshow. The story centers on Diana Christiansen (Faye Dunaway), the ratings-hungry programming executive who is prepared to do anything for better numbers. The mirror to which she plays is Max Schumacher (William Holden), the middle-age news executive who becomes Diana's victim and lover, in that order.
"The movie has been described as "outrageous satire" (Leonard Maltin) and "messianic farce" (Pauline Kael), and it is both, and more. What is fascinating about Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar-winning screenplay is how smoothly it shifts its gears. The scenes involving Beale and the revolutionary "liberation army" are cheerfully over the top. The scenes involving Diana and Max are quiet, tense, convincing drama. The action at the network executive level aims for behind-the-scenes realism; we may doubt that a Howard Beale could get on the air, but we have no doubt the idea would be discussed as the movie suggests. And then Chayefsky and the director, Sidney Lumet, edge the backstage network material over into satire, too--but subtly, so that in the final late-night meeting where the executives decide what to do about Howard Beale, we have entered the madhouse without noticing.
"The movie caused a sensation in 1976. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, won four (Finch, Dunaway, supporting actress Beatrice Straight, Chayefsky), and stirred up much debate about the decaying values of television. Seen a quarter-century later, it is like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and the World Wrestling Federation?…"