I’m a bit late to “The Newsroom” review party, but whatever. I’m throwing my two cents into the fountain that is the Internet.
For a long time (read: past four years) I’ve wondered to myself why there haven’t been more television drama series based on journalists. I mean, there are practically a billion cop dramas and hospital dramas and way too many stupid shows about high schools and supernatural crap. I mean, seriously, if I see one more vampire-themed television show, I will lose it.
Television needs revamping, you know? And what job lends itself better to artificial drama and scandal than journalism? I ask you! The newsroom is the perfect environment in which to deliver the kind of gut-wrenching, edge-of-your-seat, tear-jerking drama: You have deadlines, breaking news, angry politicians, cops with axes to grind, everything. It’s also the perfect environment to deliver moments of hilarity: Stressed out editors and reporters (most equipped with razor-sharp sarcasm), crazy sources with conspiracy theories, and and endless supply of double entendres.
So when Aaron Sorkin came along with “The Newsroom” based on a fictional news network and a charismatic, disconnected anchor, a stressed out, quick-witted staff with an idealistic executive producer, I thought to myself, “FINALLY. Something new!” Additionally, when I found out that the series would air on HBO, I knew it was going to be incredibly well-produced overall.
Part of the reason this review is so late in coming is because I just recently got around to watching it. As a journalist too broke to pay for cable much less a TV, I was incredibly grateful to Sorkin for putting it up on YouTube. (Seriously, Sorkin, you get me like nobody else does. Marry me.)
I watched the pilot before I read the reviews, and let me tell you: I LOVED IT. Granted, Emily Mortimer probably wouldn’t have been my first choice as Mackenzie McHale. Her energy was a bit too slow and exaggerated when compared to her fellow cast mates, but it was a minor irritant compared to the incredible chemistry among the rest of the cast. Alison Pill as Margaret Jordan and John Gallagher Jr. as Jim Harper was BRILLIANT casting. Absolutely phenomenal. And Jeff Daniels as the gruff, testy boss and anchor Will McAvoy was simply amazing. He breathed incredible life into his character. He delivered his lines with passion and conviction and for the first time in a long time, I was able to watch a television show and completely suspend my disbelief, which my journalistic spidey-senses rarely allow me to do.
And the SCORE. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I was the biggest band nerd ever from 4th grade to my senior year of high school. I played flute and euphonium (for those of you who know what that is, I salute you), so I developed a deep passion and appreciation for classical music and any and all music scores. Music is a huge part of any cinematic or television experience, and a good score will significantly enhance your enjoyment and effectively add drama to the storyline. Oftentimes, the music for any scene can drive the plot more than the actors ever could.
The score for “The Newsroom” is nothing short of beautiful. The track for the opening sequence almost brought tears to my eyes. The simple, opening piano melody starts off at a mezzo-forte, with soft violins weaving in and out behind it. Then, with the help of those same violins, it builds until it cuts off with a roll of the timpanis and lets the strings take over the melody. And as the sequence continues, the music keeps building and building until the whole orchestra is a part of it. It ends with one haunting flute note hanging in the air, echoing with a sound reminiscent of discovery and an unknown future. Just amazing. Simply beautiful.
The story for the pilot itself was hooking. The opening scene where Will McAvoy lays into an unsuspecting, if not stupid, college student to bash her ethnocentrism was pretty awe-inspiring, and it had some of the most brilliant and clever rhetoric I had heard in a long time. After the opening scene, the rest of the show starts en media res, with Don Keefer, played by Thomas Sadoski, arguing with his girlfriend, Maggie. It’s a great tactic for drawing the audience in immediately and making them pay attention — we have to infer what’s going on from the argument until it all becomes clear later on in the show.
And setting the opening episode against the drama of the BP oil spill was a genius idea. It was the biggest news story of 2010, so the audience already knows about it. It also highlights how a news show is put together with a breaking news story from start to finish, so the audience worries less about the actual information they’re reporting on and more on the process.
All-in-all, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction about the pilot, knowing that there was now a well-produced, well-written show about news out there; One that put journalists in the center of the conversation instead of making them the butt of the joke.
So imagine my surprise when my fellow journalists wrote about how much they hated it.
OK, so I kind of get how TV reporters would be pissed. I’m not in broadcasting myself, so I can’t attest to the accuracy of the process. I’m sure if I was in broadcasting, I’d be less inclined to suspend my belief, but whatever. If every drama series was based on accuracy, there would be no Grey’s Anatomy or Law & Order.
But when columnists and reporters complained that Sorkin used his new television show as a platform to preach about journalistic integrity, about not pandering to the audience, about giving the people what they need instead of what they want — I was baffled.
I mean, COME ON. I guarantee you every single newsroom across the country every single day has the same exact conversation. When our web masters bug us about SEO in our web headlines because we didn’t get enough hits on a story we thought would bring in major traffic, or when our ratings analyst says the people want more celebrity news, or when our editor wants to dedicate thirty whole inches to the little miss beauty pageant at the state fair (that’s a bit more recent, but another story for another time), we all throw our pens down on our desks, wave our fists at our superiors and threaten very loudly and in no uncertain terms to quit. Or we may do something far more passive aggressive. Whatever.
The point is, it happens. And we talk about it. And we worry about it all the dang time. And we should worry about it. It’s a very fine line between entertainment and news and there’s no rulebook. We are the final arbiters. We worry about ratings, we worry about web traffic, we worry about advertisers, but we also worry if we’re informing the public to the best of our abilities. That’s the nature of the business. That’s the state of journalism today. THAT’S WHERE WE’RE AT.
Sorkin pointed it out. He shoved it right in our faces, and the industry detested him for that. He made it apparent to civilians what goes on in newsrooms and the conversation we have about content, and journalists hated it.
So it’s bullshit and hypocritical to say that Sorkin was being “preachy.” The truth of the matter is, every journalist feels the same way as Mackenzie McHale. We got into the news business because we wanted to affect change. We wanted to make a difference. We wanted to inform people before they walked into the voting booth. And I do not care who you are: You could be the most cynical, jaded veteran journalist on the planet, but deep down, you feel the same way. That’s why you’re still here. That’s why you haven’t quit yet, even though a dying industry, an all-too-loud Internet platform, a disheartening and disinterested public and an overbearing, greedy publisher and/or network regularly force you to reconsider early retirement. You’re in it because you still care.
“The Newsroom” portrays that. We’re still an industry that cares. So stop trying to say that you don’t.