The Newsroom Doesn’t Blow

Ken AshfordPopular CultureLeave a Comment

HBO's "The Newsroom" just got renewed for a second season, despite several bad reviews.  Even some Sorkin fans seem a little dismayed.

The first two shows have aired, and I absolutely love it.  In fact, I am enjoying it more than "Studio 60" when it first aired.

"The Newsroom" has all the Sorkin staples — most notably, the fast banter.  Sorkin isn't writing on new ground, and that's fine with me.

Any Sorkin fan will recognize common themes.  "The Newsroom", a show about putting on the nightly news, is about television — this already makes it on apar with "Sports Night" and "Studio 60".  It's also about people who are fundamentally good at what they do, which makes it like "Sports Night" and "Studio 60" and "The West Wing".

The series starts with a main charactor having a public meltdown.  Like Judd Hirsch in "Studio 60".  Here, the main character is Will McEvoy, anchor of the ACN Nightly News, played by Jeff Daniels.  McEvoy is kind of an ass — mean to the people he works with.  A yeller.  He's obsessed with ratings.  His meltdown comes at a college journalism symposium after being asked by a sorority girl why America is the greatest country in the world.  Rather than spout platitudes, McEvoy answers "It's not", and proceeds to give facts about the state of America as it is today.  It's a strong Sorkin monologue, and Daniels is amazing speaking it.

Enter McKenzie, an American with a British accent (her father, we learn, was an ambassador to the U.S. under Thatcher).  She has been a war correspondent for several years, and is burnt out.  She has become the "EP" (executive producer) of the newsroom.  Will McEvoy learns of this upon his return from a two-week vacation following his meltdown.  And the viewer quickly learns, MacKenzie and McEvoy have a past.

So, a news anchor and a (female) EP having a potential romance?  Shades of "Sports Night".  And — again, like "Sports Nights" — there's a budding romance between associate producers and their assistants.

So Sorkin fans will recognize these common themes, and even some of the dialogue.  My favorite is the three-peat question that Sorkin uses:

"Where is my staff?"

"Welcome back, Will"

"Thanks. Where is my staff?"

"You need to see Charlie"

"Okay.  Where is my staff?"

"I can't say anything until you've seen Charlie".

Even the title of "The Newsroom" premiere episode "We Just Decided To" reflects dialoogue from both "Sports Night" and "The West Wing".

What make "The Newsroom" really interesting is that, unlike "The West Wing", it is set two years ago.  Sorkin takes on REAL news issues (in the series premiere, it was the BP oil spill).  I hope that trend continues.

And yes, while he does get a little preachy about how BAD the news is now (and how good it can be if they just delivered the facts instead of shouting people), I don't find it overbearing as some of the show's critics do.

"The Newsroom" does differ from Sorkin's predecessor shows in three significant ways: (1) No commercials.  This allows the rollercoaster dialogue to build to uncanny heights (2) Different directors.  No Jonathan Schlemme here, which means we don't have the famous walk-and-talk scenes.  We also have hand-held cameras and fast-cutting.  In all honestly, the show sometimes looks like "The Office". (3)  Better music.  Thomas Newman insterad of "Snuffy" Whathisname.

And the opening title is a nice homage to the history of news.

Two shows in, and I am eager to see what happens to these charactors.