Clawing Her Way to the Top – With Carly Zien of “Network”

When the critically-acclaimed film Network was released in 1976, it was seen as a darkly comic satire of the television industry. The movie went on to win four Academy Awards, including the award for Best Actress, which Faye Dunaway won for her portrayal of Diana Christensen.

This Season, FST presents a theatrical adaptation of Network, a crackling drama that was adapted by Lee Hall and based on the award-winning screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky. Called “As timely as ever” by Sarasota Magazine, Network is still relevant, even almost 50 years after the film’s original release.

Carly Zien plays Diana Christensen, the Director of Programming at the fictional network, UBS, in FST’s production of Network. In the play, Diana convinces executives to keep Howard Beale—a veteran news anchor who has broken down on live TV—on the air. We sat down with Carly to talk about the complexities of her character, the play’s power, and Diana’s connection with the play’s unstable main character, Howard Beale.

You play Diana in FST’s production of Network. How would you describe her? How are the two of you similar?

I once read that Faye Dunaway, who played Diana Christensen in the film Network, was described as a “gossamer grenade.” I think that’s true of Diana too. She’s extremely feminine in the way she presents herself, but underneath, she is someone willing to go to war, die, and even kill, for what she wants. 

She’s at a point in her life where she’s like Teflon—she’s not allowing herself any vulnerability or real feelings. Max, her co-worker and love interest, describes her as a wasteland, and I think that’s accurate. I do think, though, that underneath her armor is a woman who has been deeply hurt in her early life. She talks about trying to jump off a building when she was in college. That can only come from a place of deep pain.

Pictured (Left to Right): Carly Zien (Diana) and Rod Brogan (Max) in Network. Photo by John Jones.

Max offers her the semblance of a loving relationship, and she bluntly says she doesn’t know how to do that. I’m also quite direct—I say what I mean and mean what I say —but I think I also have an open heart that gives and receives love. At this moment in Diana’s life, she’s not capable of that.

A prevailing theme of the play is how the network Howard Beale works for takes advantage of his decline, rage, and grief, but Diana falls victim to this trap as well. How does her story hold up against Howard’s?

I think she and Howard actually have a lot in common—they both feel driven to tell the truth and deeply want to be seen. Diana recognizes the value in Howard’s on-air pronouncements, so in that way, she truly sees him and understands his pain. She believes that he can be the people’s outlet for some of their built-up rage. But the difference between Diana and Howard is that she is a woman, and she is driven to become a success in a world dominated by men. She has no outlet for her rage, she can only zero in on her personal goals. Perhaps if she becomes the TV producer with the most successful television show in the world, she will finally feel seen.

Pictured Left to Right: Carly Zien (Diana), Rod Brogan (Max), and Jason Pintar (Harry Hunter.)

In Network, Diana is the sole woman in a position of power. How does this impact how audiences perceive her? How does this affect her journey over the course of the play?

I was just reading a book about the making of the film Network and apparently Paddy Chayefsky said that Diana doesn’t think of herself as a woman. In the play’s script, she says she has a “masculine temperament.” She certainly holds her own among the men of the company. In fact, she’s able to easily manipulate most of them into giving her what she wants. I think the audience might see her as the play’s villain or as amoral, but all of the tactics she uses are ones that wouldn’t have been questioned at the time—were they coming from a man. Her instinctive ideas bring her lots of success, but her version of the Howard Beale show eventually gets out of control. She can’t control the beast she’s created.

Why do you think Network is still relevant, almost five decades years after the original film was released?

There are so many reasons why Network is still relevant! Howard mentions many issues that plagued Americans during the ’70s, but those things are still what we see in the news today: recession, inflation, corruption of finance, inertia of politics, a deep-seated public rage, and our obsession with TV. Audiences keep mentioning the play’s resonance—it could easily be referring to today’s political and social climate. 

Due to audience demand, Network has been extended and is now running through March 26, 2023. For tickets and more information, click here.

Header Image: Gemma Vodacek and Carly Zien. Photo by John Jones.