Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the longtime anchor of the UBS Evening News, learns he has just two more weeks on the air because of declining ratings. Weary from misfortunes and sorrowful, he is treated to a night of drinking with his boss and friend, Max Schumacher (William Holden), followed by mention of his desire to kill himself. The following night, he actually announces on live television that he will commit suicide by shooting himself in the head during next Tuesday’s broadcast.
In fact, Beck’s career parallels Beale’s in that he’s been encouraged to be outrageous, and that there has been a Saudi investment in NewsCorp:
Meanwhile, another crisis looms for UBS. When Beale discovers that CCA, the conglomerate that owns UBS, will be bought out by an even larger Saudi Arabian conglomerate, he launches an on-screen tirade against it, encouraging viewers to send telegrams to the White House telling them, “I want the CCA deal stopped now!” This throws the top network brass into a state of panic because the company’s debt load has made merger essential for survival. Beale is then taken to meet with CCA chairman Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), who explicates his own “corporate cosmology” to the attentive Beale. Jensen delivers a tirade of his own in an “appropriate setting,” the dramatically darkened CCA boardroom, that suggests to the docile Beale that Jensen may himself be some higher power — describing the interrelatedness of the participants in the international economy, and the illusory nature of nationality distinctions. Jensen’s world view ultimately persuades Beale to abandon his populist messages. However, television audiences find his new views on the dehumanization of society to be depressing, and ratings begin to slide. Despite this, Jensen will not allow executives to fire Beale as he spreads the new ‘evangel.’ Seeing its two-for-the-price-of-one value — solving the Beale problem plus sparking a boost in season-opener ratings — Christensen, Hackett and the other executives arrange for Beale’s on-air assassination by the same group of urban terrorists whom she discovered earlier and who now have their own UBS show, The Mao Tse-Tung Hour. It is, the voice-over assures, “the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings.”
Will FOX accommodate him?