Award winning writer/producer Aaron Sorkin took us behind the scenes with dramas like The West Wing, The Social Network, and Moneyball. Now he’s giving us an inside look at the 24-hour news networks in the new HBO series The Newsroom.
Jeff Daniels stars as Will McAvoy, the host of News Night on Atlantis Cable News (ACN). McAvoy is known as the Jay Leno of news anchors because he takes great pains to avoid revealing his political leanings, which might cost him in the all-important ratings game.
At panel discussion a college student asks why America is the greatest country in the world. McAvoy jokingly answers “the New York Jets.” The moderator asks him for a real answer but he just parrots his peers’ partisan answers: “diversity and opportunity” & “freedom and freedom.” McAvoy is again pressed for an answer. He takes some vertigo medicine and has a hallucination of his old flame/colleague, MacKenzie McHale, holding signs that say “it’s not” and “but it can be.” McAvoy follows his conscience and launches into an anti-American tirade. “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world,” McAvoy explains. He lists off a myriad of statistics such as poor test scores, high mortality, and weak trade. He insists the only three categories we lead in are incarceration, religious fanatics, and defensing spending. McAvoy reminisces about a time when we weren’t so polarized and worked to together to accomplish great things, which was possible because we were informed by great men. Unfortunately, the last part of his speech falls on deaf ears.
McAvoy takes some time off to let things cool down. He returns to work to find virtually all of his staff has quit but what really upsets him is that his hallucination turns out to be real and she’s his new Executive Producer. McAvoy refuses to work with McHale. He agrees to take a one million dollar salary cut in order to have the option to fire her at the end of each week. However, McHale is confident she can reignite his journalist integrity and perhaps even their romance.
Will McAvoy is a mix of a variety of news personalities. Sorkin uses lots of not-so-subtle references to the lowlights of broadcast news. There’s an apparent dig at the failed CNN holographic reporter experiment. McAvoy’s Executive Producer tells him “You’re one pitch meeting way from doing the news in 3D.” There’s even a moment reminiscent of Bill O’Reilly ranting “We’ll do it live.” The Executive Producer blackmails McAvoy into behaving by threatening to use a satirical title graphic: “Vertigo Medicine with McAvoy.” He gets worried that the prank will accidentally go live and be uploaded to the internet. He repeatedly screams “Youtube. Youtube. Youtube.”
The Newsroom isn’t exclusively for new junkies, anymore than Mad Men is for ad execs. Most the drama revolves around the characters’ personal lives, which are are complicated by office romances.
All McAvoy and McHale do is argue; you find yourself waiting for that cliche moment when their fighting crescendos in a kiss. There’s also a love triangle between McAvoy’s assistant, Margaret “Maggie” Jordan (Alison Pill), former Executive Producer, Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), and new Senior Producer, James “Jim” Harper (John Gallagher Jr.). And it’s hardly breaking news that model/television personality Olivia Munn will sex up the office as financial analyst Sloan Sabbith, who freely admits she doesn’t look like your typical economist. In one scene, Sloan reads some fan mail: “Miss Sabbith, a lady always buttons her top button. If you buttoned your collar on television, you would be a lady. If you spilled water all over your front, I would like that too.”
It’s ironic that a show about not worrying about ratings clearly is.