on November 24, 2012
Much has already been said about the show's quality as a TV drama, the great acting and inspired writing. I want to focus on something else.
Having spent more than two decades at CNN Center in Atlanta, until two years ago, as a writer and producer, the show is a brilliant success in conveying what it feels like to be in a newsroom like that, especially when there is breaking news.
In particular, the episode with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was absolutely true to life. Another reviewer criticized the dilema the team felt as other networks were reporting that she was dead and they were under pressure from network executives not to fall behind on the story. At the climactic moment, the anchor Will McAvoy makes the call on air and offers only the information about the shooting: "Here's what we know so far..." Which, of course, we know to have been the right call.
The factual context is right. NPR did report that Gifford had been killed; CNN, among others, repeated the misinformation, albeit attributing the report to NPR.
I don't know exactly what happened around Congresswoman Gifford's shooting, it was on a Saturday and I was working M-F, but I was there in the CNN Headline News newsroom in a similar situation: we came within seconds of airing a false report that the first president Bush had died during a visit to Japan in 1992 (where he had taken ill the night before, throwing up on the Japanese Prime Minister).
How close? The anchor --Chuck Roberts, I think it was--, said on the air "We have some very tragic news about president Bush" and you can hear in the background the supervising producer shouting "No, No, No" and then the anchor saying no, we don't have that, followed by something very close to "Here's what we know so far. President Bush fell ill last night ..." and so on.
At that time CNN set up a much more stringent system for confirming information and vetting what got on the air. Over the years, the formalities have remained ... but not the rigor. The argument is that it is already out there, all over the Internet. But you'd think a CNN would see as its job to run the reports through a fact-checking wringer and then tell its viewers the results.
The sets are absolutely true to life, not just the newsroom but also the studio and control room. I told my son as we were watching one episode that it looked like it had been filmed in the CNN International control room. Of course, this is a TV drama not a documentary, which means the writers take any number of shortcuts to telescope events into an episode's time frame and to present conflicts and issues sharply. But that is what art is supposed to do: to illuminate by selectively highlighting and focusing. I think they have done a wonderful job of distilling the life and feel of a newsroom.
And there's something else.
My favorite definition of journalism is that journalism is making public something that someone doesn't want to come out. Everything else is propagabda.
My generation of journalists had some great contemporary role models as we were learning out craft in the reporting around the Pentagon Papers and then Watergate (not just the presidential "dirty tricks" but everything that came to light as a result, from CIA financing of political campaigns in other countries and assassination plots against Fidel Castro).
Unfortunately, today it seems those sorts of models can only be found in fiction.
on September 11, 2012
I've been an Aaron Sorkin fan for a long time. His dialogue is brain candy for me: regardless of whether I agree with what he's saying, the eloquence and the rhythm are thrilling and addictive. I don't think you need to believe he's right in order to enjoy the show. That said, I usually do agree with him, and The Newsroom is no exception.
It's rare to turn on the news and get anything more than the cheap thrill of watching someone from the left fight it out with someone on the right. The anchors themselves take a passive role, and yet if they wanted to, they really could challenge the speakers, couldn't they? Force them to defend their statements with verifiable facts? And in so doing, help the viewers to evaluate the merits of the argument on each side?
The Newsroom is a pleasurable fantasy about what that might look like. And I can't help but think that the hostility the show has drawn (Google it; you'll find a lot) is mainly from people who find it easier to call Aaron Sorkin smug and sanctimonious than to admit that our national discourse is broken. Because if it is, then it needs to be fixed, and what if the only way of fixing it was to demand more facts, to think harder, to learn more? I just used several words that Americans are conditioned to hate. You want the country to go back to school for an hour every night? You intellectual, elitist snob.
Perhaps that's controversial. But I doubt that anyone who uses the word "intellectual" as a pejorative would be interested in watching this show. Like any Sorkin series, The Newsroom celebrates the power of intelligence, while reminding us that it's only as good as the heart that wields it. Sorkin's characters are inspiring less because they're smart than because they want so badly for the world to be a better place. And while the charge of intellectualism certainly sticks, the charge of elitism falls down when you consider that the show is full of characters without any claim to great intelligence, who nonetheless are portrayed very positively. The only thing you need to be one of the good guys, in Aaron Sorkin's universe, is to care about doing the right thing. And that may be moralistic, but I don't think it's elitist; nor do I think it's a brand of morality that's hard to get on board with.
That's why I find Sorkin to be such a wonderful writer. He seems to offend a lot of people, but if you're not offended by anything I just said, then I doubt you'd be one of them. And you'd be in a position to enjoy a tight, fast-paced, witty, cerebral, and passionate program by a veteran craftsman of dialogue, operating with the complete artistic freedom which HBO continues to allow its showrunners. It's an ideal partnership, and The Newsroom is one of the best things I've seen on TV in a long time.
Brilliant, Briskly Intelligent Writing was the title for this review when this enormously successful series premiered in June 2012. For some reason Amazon did not make this available either on Video On Demand or in a place where reviews could be written. Now the first season is complete - having finished last night with one of the finest shows of the season. And with the soon to be released DVD set of the first year, we can finally discuss it. To start with, the following response was to the first opening show:
A new series launched on HBO with a star-spangled episode `We just decided to'. As conceived and written by Aaron Sorkin it is a timely, incredibly intelligently written show populated with some of our best seasoned actors as well as some very fine actors on the way up. This is the kind of television that reminds us that at one time the news programs informed us about current events and ran a continuing commentary on the development of events in this country and around the world in a manner that kept us alerted of why we as a nation needed to remain alert to both good and bad events, to celebrate when indicated and to fight back when injustices were occurring. This direction is indicated in the background imagery for the titles - running glimpses of the likes of Walter Cronkite, Edward R Murrow, Huntley/Brinkley etc who were responsible news anchors instead of the flippant celebrities more concerned with ratings of their show than the news we see today.
The first episode opens with popular news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels who proves his acting chops here) being interviewed on a college campus and responds to a student question `Why is America the greatest country' by answering `We're not. We used to be' and then runs us past our history of reportage on television that proves that the country has fallen in world view because we no longer care about our initial basic rights and freedoms and concern for humanity. It is a powerful start with some of the most gut-wrenching insightful history of this country that has been written for television
From there, McAvoy returns to his station to find a support team missing and a replacement named. But enter an old flame, the war correspondent fatigued Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer, never more brilliant) who has been assigned Will's new Executive Producer, and in the midst of many changes the new arrangement (not a popular one for Will) evolves into a return to actual news reporting of the significant type - all over the 2010 BP oil explosion and spill that threatened the Gulf of Mexico. It is raw, real, factual, and immediate news delivered with veracity and commitment.
From this initial episode the series takes on the most significant events that have affected this country in the last 2 years - the major Wall Street disaster, the activity of the Tea Party sector of the Republican Party, the political party with which Will is aligned but in the final episode, after recuperating for a severe bout of depression, he returns to his place at the news desk in the final episode `In Name Only' and ends the season with a diatribe about the current status of his party berating them as a party for their ideological purity, compromise as weakness, a fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism, denying science, unmoved by facts, undeterred by new information, hostile fear of progress , a demonization of education, a need to control women's bodies, severe xenophobia, tribal mentality, intolerance of dissent, and pathological hatred of the US government. 'They can call themselves the Tea Party, they can call themselves conservatives, and they can even call themselves Republicans, though Republicans probably shouldn't. But we should call them what they are, the American Taliban.'
Greg Mottola and others direct with keen precision, allowing moments of comic relief to be present if subtle and keeps the momentum of the show propelling smoothly. The cast of superb actors includes John Gallagher, Jr. (brilliant), Dev Patel, Allison Pill, Sam Waterston (never better), Thomas Sadoski, Chris Chalk, Trieu Tran, Charlie Weirauch, Margaret Judson, Olivia Munn, Adina Porter, Hope Lange, Jane Fonda - and more. A more talented and committed cast would be hard to imagine. THIS is the kind of television series we so very sorely need right now. It is refreshingly free of the usual clatter and gimmicks that clutter the airways, and it is full of information and food for thought delivered in an entertaining manner. It is simply and unequivocally brilliant! Grady Harp, August 12
on August 28, 2012
OMG - the best Sorkin yet. Either he is the best craftsman or he has perfect pitch. Every word is perfectly placed, perfect meaning, and right on target. Poetry to the television world. And the acting and stories, like MASH or West Wing, ripe for the cultural season. Can't wait for season 2.
on March 3, 2016
I decided to give this a chance, as I love most hbo series. I managed to make it 2/3 of the way through episode 3, before choking on the hypocrisy. A news station intent on giving fact based information, without agenda or bias....good golly, they failed misserably. I am not overly political, but felt insulted that this show felt that we viewers are too stupid to realize we are being spoon fed leftist propaganda...in the form of a show that is supposed to entertain. I was revolted by the constant tirades by both Waters (expected, as he is so left) and Daniels (which was thinly veiled in the idea he leans right). I am truly ok with a good political arguement, but when it is completely one sided and disguised as a drama, you lose me completely. I really wish networks would have more of a moral obligation (tongue in cheek) in what they put on the air...and to think I pay hbo for this crap.
From the opening credits, it is evident what the producers of NEWSROOM are trying to do. It opens with black & white footage of pioneering TV journalists such as Edward R. Murrow & Walter Cronkite, and then transitions to the control room of a modern day control room of a fictional cable news station (ACN). It is obvious that the "thrust" of the show is to showcase a nexus between the giants of TV's early days with the current crop of journalists on ACN.
The approach of this series is unique. Michigan's own Jeff Daniels portrays a "Rockstar" T.V. anchor who has seen his popularity wane in a day of changing demographics. ACN tackles real-world events such as the BP oil spill in the gulf and the 2012 Republican campaign. Problem is, the people involved with the network find that the best ratings come with tabloid news as opposed to "important" news. Is there a way to find a balance?
Many viewers might be shocked at how the show takes the gloves off to go after far Rightwing Tea Party whackjobs such as Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann & Sarah Palin. In this regard, the show is right on the $$ in demonstrating the hypocrisy and utter cluelessness of those who believe the Tea Party is the best thing since sliced bread. Republicans may not like it, but that does nothing to discount the veracity of the criticims levied against the Tea Baggers.
People who are intrigued by behind-the-scenes topics as well as the ludicrous positions of the Tea Party are likely to enjoy An Atheist in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media. I found a lot of parallels between the two. Also, people who are curious about all that goes into the "behind the scenes" ingredients of making a news show are likely to be lured by NEWSROOM as well.
on February 26, 2014
Smart, funny, authentic, this show, created by Aaron Sorkin, is full of life, love, and hard hitting news. It is so smart and brain-engaging and it is once-in-a-generation powerful. So Engaging. I'd love to see this show succeed into 20+ seasons, it is that good.
on September 23, 2013
Anything written by Aaron Sorkin is a must watch! His dialogue is fabulous, his analysis of recent past events helps puts everything into perspective. The ensemble cast is very strong - Jeff Daniels does an incredible job. I'm glad he received the Emmy. I recommend this to everyone and can't wait to purchase Season Two.
on February 16, 2016
It's almost a given that with Aaron Sorkin at the helm, this show is awesome. The writing, the human situations, and the no-holds-barred evocation of the profoundly sleazy television/media business reminded me of the best days of The West Wing. However, I'll also say that, like so many shows these days, the second season has devolved into contrived (and way too explicit and borderline violent) sexual encounters, and many of the women are increasingly depicted (written) as needy, whiny, narcissistic, and prone to hysterics.
on March 7, 2016
You can never go wrong with Aaron Sorkin, and Newsroom proves it again.
Jeff Daniels makes a wonderful addition to the creative partners Sorkin has had over the years. The opening 8 mins stand up there with the opening mins of Studio 60 (which deserved much better treatment from the network than what it got) making television history.
We shouldn't, but often do, forget that it was people like Sorkin and Alan Ball and David Chase, David E. Kelley, Ron D. Moore, and the earlier works of the showrunners of programs like Wiseguy, Homicide:Life on the Street, and Law & Order that made it "acceptable" for highly talented established film actors to work in television. This despite David Fincher and Morgan Freeman long ago discussing on the Se7en audio commentaries that this was was the only place where true acting with strong impact and lasting character development could be found. Shows like Law & Order laid the groundwork. Sorkin's Sports Night and The West Wing, David Chase's Soprano's, provided proof of concept. Now every pilot season we see at least half of all programming headlined by at least one A-list star (MORE when you move to include the Amazon, NetFlix, and Hulu platforms). This has allowed us the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica with Edward Olmos and Mary McDonnell, Boston Legal with James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen, American Horror Story with Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange, Chloe Sevigny, Dylan McDermott and Lady Gaga, True Detective with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConnaughey in it's first season and Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrel in its second season. It brought big names to Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip (which, again, deserved better) and it brought big names to Newsroom.
Newsroom is commendable for its voice.
Newsroom is commendable for its dedication to the honesty of truth from the point of view of its characters, allowed growth and development over time.
It's a shame that for whatever reason the experience with Newsroom (which seemed to be going well from the outside) so soured Sorkin that he's sworn never to return to television.
Because this is one of the truly great voices of talent and depth that made that medium more cerebral, less purile, and a suitable home for artists interested in a broader pallette to frame their stories and the opportunity to have a real conversation with their audience rather than a quick chat over twitter.