The Newsroom: Season 1
In 1976 genius filmmaker Sidney Lumet created one of many ground breaking films, ‘Network’. In it the mental breakdown of a respected television news anchor is played up as a means to increase the precious ratings. The move is orchestrated not by the news division of the network but by the financially driven entertainment division. Nearly forty years ago the story was a cautionary tale warning American that their once trusted Newsmen that related the news to them in a straightforward, trusted manner were heading towards a type of entertainment. Departing from the journalists we grew up with; true newsmen like Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor and Edward R. Murrow we have a breed of young faces chosen for their general attractiveness rather than journalistic integrity. Regrettably the warning contained in that prophetic movie has come true with the evening news running more fluff pieces than hard news. The internet has put a sizable dent in print journalism while the line between news and entertainment has blurred almost beyond separation. Now in 2012 the story has become an orobus, going full circle to bite its own tale. The HBO dramatic series ‘The Newsroom’ focuses an unblinking eye on the state of network news in this modern era of sound bites and fast paced segments with many topic but little depth in any of them. True to the standards of quality the HBO has always insisted in their programming ‘The Newsroom’ is darkly satiric look at the state of television news in this modern age of the twenty four hour news cycle.
Although the series has not yet fully established its own unique voice there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever it will be found. The creative mind behind the series is a wordsmith of unparalleled acclaim, Aaron Sorkin. One of the most dialogue intensive series ever was also his creation; ‘The West Wing’, in in depth look at what goes on behind the closed doors of the Presidential Oval Office. This same exceptional sense of perception is focused with laser precision on the inner workings of a newsroom before the cameras take the action live into millions of homes. In a fashion that could only be properly developed by an incomparable talent of literary proportions like Mr. Sorkin. The foundation of the series is a team of people in television news about to embark on a return actual journalism; something not seen in any significant degree for decades.
Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is the managing editor and anchor for ‘News Night’ on the cable news network, ACN. In a play similar to the instigating moment from ‘Network’ McAvoy goes on a rant that would make Howard Beale envious. McAvoy was moderating a debate at a university forum when a pretty young woman asks an innocent question; "what do you think makes America great?" his rant begins with a litany of statistics of America not being the repository of freedom; many countries permit their citizens freedom. He proceeds on to a list of facts and statistics demonstrating how poorly Americans rank in math, science, literacy and life expectancy. The only things we lead the world in are number of citizens incarcerated and people believing in angles. He concludes with how he wishes we could regain the greatness we once had. This type of pointed monologue is Sorkin’s trademark and perfectly sets the tone for the series. After a leave required by his bosses McAvoy returns to find most of his staff had transferred to the ten o’clock news. A few remained and a new executive producer, MacKenzie Hale (Emily Mortimer), McAvoy’s ex-girlfriend. He gives up s fortune to make sure he has the right to fire her creating a strange personal and professional dynamic that contains a lot of promise. McAvoy is a true journalist to his core sanctioned by the network and shunned by his staff for reporting truth; this nation has slipped from the pinnacle. Ironically the means by which this rant became public was by one of the newest expressions of the citizen reporter; cell phone video and the internet.
The big chance for redemption comes in the form of a breaking story. An oil rig off the coast of Louisiana failed resulting in the largest and deepest oil spill in history. The company is at a loss as to how to cap the flow. McAvoy and his team get a scoop and the decision to air the story as the facts are being uncovered is made. They wind up disclosing a huge story before any other network; good old fashion journalism. Hale, better known ad Mac, takes this opportunity to reinvent the show creating what she refers to as News Night 2.0. It gets off to a rocky start but pulls together. The ANC News division president, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) is skeptical but as an old school newsman wants to see it work. The first controversial move is to lower the spill in importance after a few days. It remained the top story everywhere else but the vision for New Night 2.0 if the freshest news possible not rehashing what the rival channels are running.
It is natural to make comparisons to Sorkins’ previous culturally insightful hit; ‘West Wing’. The obvious point is the quality of writing defining the series. Sorkin is the creative force in charge but utilizes the talent of a bull pen of gifted writers. This approach gave ‘West Wing’ the fast pace vigor and dynamic interaction between the characters that made it a pivotal series in television. The same methodology was employed here and although it is still in the process of coming together the technique still works. Sorkin as the show runner is like a conductor of a great symphony orchestra. The individual instruments and specific sections each contributing to the piece but it is the conductor that channels the synergy to the audience.
This collaboration behind the scenes is echoed and reinforced in front of the camera with the well-defined characters and the expertise of the actors that bring them to life. One of the most notable is Allison Pill as Maggie Jordan, an eager to please young woman that is saddening promoted to associate producer of News Nigh. She has a romantic entanglement with the producer Jim Happer (John Gallagher, Jr). Also brought on board is Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), an economist with a PhD from Duke University under-utilized on another show. She is not only brilliant but stunningly beautiful. Mac hires her for her ability but notes her legs will get viewers. Making recurring appearances is a woman who knows about cable news at least through marriage, Jane Fonda. She takes on the role as Leona Lansing: CEO of Atlantis World Media (AWM), this is the parent corporation and owners of ANC, making her the boss of bosses. This places the hierarchy that controls the news we watch interested in the fiscal reports more than breaking news.
Like a great literary work this series will require some time to mature, to permit the different elements to blend together and reinforce each other. Fortunately HBO has given a second season to the show and Sorkin, while keeping his writing staff, has apparently made some significant alterations to the production and support staffs of the series. Like many fans of Sorkin’s work I look forward to see how this story will continue to break.
The Rundown: Creator And Executive Producer Aaron Sorkin Along With Alan Poul,
Greg Mottola, Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, and Sam Waterston Discuss In Detail
Their Experiences Shooting The First Season In This Exclusive Conversation