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'Network' Meets the Future, as Olbermann Takes on Itzkoff

by John Anderson
February 20, 2014 3:44 PM
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Peter Finch in 'Network'
Peter Finch in 'Network'
Sidney Lumet's 'Network'
Sidney Lumet's 'Network'

On Sunday, New York Times culture writer Dave Itzkoff will be interviewed at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image about his hot-off-the-presses (-and-tablet-download) “Mad As Hell: The Making of ‘Network’ and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies,” about the baroque construction project that was the Sidney Lumet classic of 1976, based on Paddy Chayefsky’s dystopian vision of what the TV news business was going to become, and largely has. So is it 1) curious, 2) ironic, 3) fitting, 4) all of the above that his interlocutor should be Keith Olbermann?

“Keith was one of the really generous supporters of the book, and he’s a huge fan of the movie,” Itzkoff said of the former MSNBC and Current TV political commentator, now doing sports on ESPN2. “I think he could recite the script verbatim.”

Itzkoff, whose book project was spawned by a story he wrote and a couple years ago for the Sunday NYTimes and the access he was given to the Chayefsky papers held at the New York Public Library, said he had been less interested in the predictive powers of the movie – which won Academy Awards for Chayefsky, Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight and a posthumous Best Actor Oscar for Peter Finch – than the “fascinating tale” behind its production, which seems to be one of those classic Hollywood tales about everything not going wrong.

Olbermann, who often seemed like a justifiably mad prophet on his old MSNBC show (though never without a certain facetious tongue-in-cheek) even did the occasional Howard Beale homage (“I’m as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore”) so the Itzkoff-Olbermann matchup Sunday should be a sell-out. Olbermann contributed to the book’s last section, titled “It’s All Going to Happen,” as did a number of TV luminaries, including Bill O’Reilly, whom Itzkoff credits with one of the franker assessments of the current state of news.

“His argument is an indictment of the TV audience,” said the author, “who are willing to be led to wherever the TV decides to lead them.” We would pay major money to see a cage match between Olbermann and O’Reilly, but Olbermann-Itzkoff sounds pretty exciting.


  • JAB | February 20, 2014 8:56 PMReply

    It's no surprise that Olbermann is a huge fan of this all-time classic because it mirrors his sensibilities as a broadcast journalist.
    Olbermann is the best thing to happen to the world of sports recently aside from Mike Trout (I'm an Angels fan).
    "Network" is as fresh & devilishly entertaining today as was in its initial release. The most troubling thing about Paddy Chayefsky's mad musings back then is that they've come true & seem rather tame when you watch what is pawned off as the news today.
    Some people like Olbermann & Jon Stewart & Colbert & their fans get it. The rest are high on SOMA. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that Aldous Huxley teference.)

  • Joe Leydon | February 20, 2014 8:37 PMReply

    I am envious of anyone who gets to attend this.

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