“Network” — a wild trip into the dark underbelly of TV news, with its burgeoning bombast, twisted screen reality and rabid ratings chases — ends each night after the standing ovation with filmed news sequences of the oaths of office taken by American presidents beginning with Jimmy Carter.
Audiences members also began applauding George H.W. Bush after his death last month in previews (the play opened Dec. 6).
The play isn’t about politics. It’s a scathing commentary on the trajectory of the television news business as it careens into entertainment driven by profit. Originally written in 1976 as a screenplay by Paddy Chayevsky, the then over-the-top story line now seems eerily prescient.
“Breaking Bad” star Cranston, who plays haunted protagonist anchor Howard Beale, took a dig at the media in an interview last month with The New York Times, saying “people are “gullible” if they believe everything they see on TV. He not only named Fox News, but also CNN and MSNBC. He told The Hollywood Reporter that the manipulation of the media — and politics — is part of the “toxic, destructive stew we’re living in now.”
But the final news footage adds an anti-Trump grace note to the play that encourages audience participation.
New York theater is developing a bit of an anti-Trump reputation. Last summer the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park series presented a Julius Caesar production with an assassination scene featuring a contemporary blond Caesar in a red tie and dark suit that resembled Trump (Trump retweeted a critical tweet about the play.)
In 2016, shortly after the presidential election, Vice President Mike Pence was booed by audience members as he took his seat at the hit musical “Hamilton.” Then members of the cast gathered on stage at the end of the play to issue a message to Pence.
“We, sir, we are the diverse America, who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us... and uphold our inalienable rights,” said actor Brandon Dixon, who played the part of Aaron Burr. “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”