Putting News First in the ‘Room’

Courtesy of HBO

Aaron Sorkin gets me. He had me at “The West Wing” and he has me now with “The Newsroom.”

Even though I was about thirteen and some of the political jargon went way over my head, “The West Wing” had me swooning over the fast-paced wit in the mock-Bush administration setting. “The Newsroom” provides the same clever and swift conversation but in a language I am much more familiar with: news.

The show centers on Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), a know-it-all primetime news anchor who receives a new staff, including executive producer Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). McHale, a know-it-all with a pleasant, self-righteous disposition and a British accent, happens to be McAvoy’s ex-girlfriend.

Both characters were crushed by their former relationship ending in shambles but know when to set aside their disagreements and report the news. Not the most surprising setup, but I find the dynamic real and the characters well played.

The dialogue is sharp and doesn’t wait for anyone. I also have a deep appreciation for Sorkin’s attention to the journalism industry. With shows like “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” and the like on MTV, I relish his attempt to remind viewers that the news not only takes a lot of work to produce, but also has a great deal of value.

The pilot begins with McAvoy ripping a sophomore girl at Northwestern a new one for asking, “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” His response, of course, was that it’s not the greatest country in the world and goes on to list the various reasons why. This monologue basically ensured that I would never hold a television show in higher regard. McAvoy’s speech was honest, inspirational and, to me, just perfect. It was an excellent introduction and the show has been enjoyable since.

However, the critics couldn’t disagree more. “But at its worst, the show chokes on its own sanctimony,” The New York Times said. “It’s clear that Mr. Sorkin’s main interest in ‘The Newsroom’ runs to concerns other than characters and storytelling,” Wall Street Journal added. “‘The Newsroom’ treats the audience as though we were extremely stupid,” the New Yorker piped.

To all of you well-renowned newspapers and magazines, I say, “What do you know?” “The Newsroom” is witty, well-written, punchy and bold enough to call the American people out on their often times stupid behavior. Come on, New Yorker, how can you really get upset with a show for directing its criticism to an audience that knows more facts about the Kardashians but doesn’t know what the Arab Spring was?

Above all,  “The Newsroom” makes me want to be a journalist even more than I already do, not because I think I will experience the same atmosphere presented on the show but because the show aims to report the news the way it should be reported. As a wide-eyed journalism student, the show gets me really jazzed to go out and report the honest truth.

There are critiques condemning the show for not being realistic. I understand that not every newsroom is filled with punchy and witty journalists that know exactly what to say and when to say it. And no, I can’t see a speech being given every day in the ABC newsroom or the BBC newsroom. But what I love about Sorkin’s characters is that they actually do seem real. I adore the way he makes the smart and successful journalists, businessmen, and even economists look stupid sometimes. The executive producer of the fake show is an accomplished journalist, can listen to three people talk to her at the same time and understand them all, but has to count on her fingers. The economist on the show is drowning in PhDs and can speak fluent Japanese but can’t grasp how relationships work.

Many journalists disliked the show for its lack of authenticity. Well, it’s not supposed to be. I find this lost on the critics and journalists who gave the show terrible reviews. It should have a monologue of inspiration, angry or outrage in each episode and relationship twists otherwise people would just change the channel, just like they do with the real news. Yes, I think the speeches can be a bit much at times, but I can look past their cheesiness and you should too.

Sorkin said in response to the grips of negative reviews, “The show is meant to be a fantasy set against very real and oftentimes very serious events.” Hear, hear. The show has aired six episodes, and many have actually said the fifth was the episode that saved the series. Although I didn’t find too many problems with the previous episodes, episode five, “Amen,” was beautifully crafted and re-introduced viewers to the turmoil in Egypt and the Arab Spring as it first began.

“The Newsroom” reminds its viewers that the anchors are actually more concerned with the news than with how white their teeth are or how big they got their hair that day. Sure, there are few broadcast journalists that have the intelligence and skill to report a story on the fly as McAvoy does, but then again, it’s television. It’s not meant to be real. Sorkin aims for the show’s audience to go “Damn, I wish this were real.” Well, Sorkin, damn, I wish this were real.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5