The Newsroom Needs a Newsflash

Last night, after much anticipation, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom finally debuted on HBO. I really wanted to like this show because, even though I know he can be preachy, I like Aaron Sorkin and his previous two shows about the behind-the-scenes of television. Both Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip were their own shows, The Newsroom appears to be a rehash of Studio 60 with the only difference being the former takes place in a newsroom and the latter is about a late night sketch comedy show a la Saturday Night Live.

If I had never seen Studio 60, I would probably love The Newsroom. Instead, I spent all hour and fifteen minutes of the first episode wishing people would stop comparing everyone they find bland to Jay Leno, thinking Sam Waterston needs a hair cut and makes an awkward drunk, and searching for anachronisms and incorrect facts. Seriously, I was trying to determine if the cell phones used in the show were actually available in 2010 because the show lost my interest within the first 15 minutes.

The Newsroom opened with anchor Will McAvoy on a panel talking to college students when a student asks “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”. The other two panelists gave the usual answers: “diversity and opportunity” and “freedom and freedom.” McAvoy was willing to go along with them until the chair of the panel pressed him for an answer, which eventually turned into “It’s not. America is not the greatest country in the world” and a rant on how terrible the country is doing in comparison to the rest of the world. The way you interpret McAvoy’s outburst depends on where you stand on the issue. I just found him stupid for reacting that way. Why does it matter so much to McAvoy that the press called him the Jay Leno of news anchors for not broadcasting his opinions? His job is to report the facts and not have a public opinion about politics.

After his outburst, McAvoy goes to work to find that 99 percent of his staff has walked out on him. Yes, McAvoy’s outburst was not smart on his part, but is the staff of News Night really that childish that their boss screws up once and they walk out without telling him. I have a hard time believing that would actually happen in a real newsroom. I would like to think most people are more professional than those who work for News Night.

Charlie Skinner, president of Alantis Cable News, hires Mackenzie MacHale as News Night‘s new executive producer behind Will McAvoy’s back. MacHale and McAvoy have a long history together. They must have dated at some point because McAvoy does not want to work with MacHale to the point that he actually went to his agent to get her contract changed. MacHale’s contract was originally for three years. McAvoy got that changed. McAvoy reveals this in the best line of the episode: “It’s not a three year contract anymore. It’s a 156 week contract that gives me the opportunity to fire you 155 times at the end of each week. We’ll wait a few months to make sure it’s not a story Bill Carter can shove up my ass.”

The middle of the first episode drags on, which is unusual for an Aaron Sorkin show. He is the king of fast dialogue and walk and talks, yet failed to make the clash between the old staff and the new staff interesting. It is at this point where I started to count down the minutes until the end of the show.

The tension rises in The Newsroom when Don Keefer, the old producer of News Night, refuses to listen to Jim Harper, one of MacHale’s people, about an oil spill of the coast of Louisiana that one of his sources revealed. This is where the show benefits from taking place two years in the past. If News Night was a real news show that was actually on the air during the oil spill crisis, there is no way the staff would have known all the information they were reporting as fast as they did. In the end, News Night comes together at the last minute, the show goes well, and afterward McAvoy gets his act together and stops acting like a complete jerk to everyone.

The Newsroom will probably last a few seasons because it’s not on a broadcast network. However, I will not be watching it. Ten years from now I may buy the DVDs because I am sure the show will get better with age just like Studio 60 did. Right now, News Night is two years behind the times and is providing untimely commentary on something most people remember quite well. In a few years, you will know it takes place in the past and won’t expect it to be current. Currently, The Newsroom walks a strange line between two years ago and the present that does not work.

About Allison Lips

I am the editor and founder of "Wait! What's a Dial?". I graduated from Rowan University with degrees in both Radio/TV/Film and Journalism.

Posted on June 25, 2012, in Cable, Drama, HBO, Primetime and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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