Thoughts on “The Newsroom”

At long last, I’ve gotten around to watching a few episode of Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV polemic “The Newsroom”. Here are some of my thoughts from a Facebook thread, with some counter-points from others put in. (I’ve edited a little to remove extraneous bantering).
STATUS UPDATE:
“The Newsroom” – Lazy, intellectually and emotionally dishonest and further fuels my major gripe with Sorkin shows that all the characters are just surrogate mouthpieces.But sometimes it’s fun.
  • Nia DaCosta haha, exactly how I feel about this show.
  • Nia DaCosta But have you seen the West Wing?
  • Vinay Patel

    The Newsroom feels like Gilmore Girls for pretentious people.
  • Nia DaCosta hahaha, if Gilmore Girls was also tonally confused and vaguely sexist.
  • Vinay Patel Also that West Wing had problems (re-hashed character and story arcs) but I guess was fresher, more fun and of its time. 

    Newsroom confuses a character having two wildly different traits for “complexity”. Those things have to marry somewhere for it to work. TBH, I think I’ve just been spoiled by Breaking Bad…
  • Vinay Patel WHAT JOURNO WORTH THEIR SALT IS CONFUSED BY EMAIL?! Gooooood.
  • Nia DaCosta I KNOW! It was utterly ridiculous. And she was allegedly a good producer but this was never shown, and they always told us that Will was a good guy but he never acted like one
  • Vinay Patel And Remember: nothing makes a journo who’s spent 2 years reporting at the war front more flustered than a newsroom of rookies…
  • Vinay Patel Really, It’s hard to see any of the characters for all the soapboxes lying around…
  • Nia DaCosta Haha, yeah The Newsroom is my Soapbox Hour. But don’t forget what makes this country great, Vinay. You.
  • Nia DaCosta Except you’re English.
  • Vinay Patel I try to not let anyone forget that.
  • Vinay Patel And that’s what MY soapbox play is about. Take a seat, Sorkin, let the pros show you how to poorly dramaticise an issue…
  • Nia DaCosta Hah! Yay, the rest of our lives.
  • Sebastian Allan Yeah, you guys clearly haven’t worked in news. Newsroom is actually very well researched beautifully observed, exaggerated of course, but pretty conducive with real life.
  • Vinay Patel Seb I’m not questioning its fidelity to real life – I have little experience of an actual newsroom. But neither have I cooked meth, been to Baltimore, worked on a space cruiser or lived in 1930s Chicago. Newsroom isn’t asking to be engaged with because of its realism or newsroom observations – it’s all about it’s sense of mission, like The West Wing before it.
  • Vinay Patel What I mean is: Sorkin isn’t exactly pushing himself with this. Characters operate in a way that seems to defer to the plot and/or the next punch line rather than their much talked about personalities.
  • Sebastian Allan Hang on Vinay, whay you were saying, in a round about way in your original status was that you thought the character were dishonest, and this show was lazy, intellectually and emotionally dishonest. And all I am saying, is that the show is spot on when it comes to a newsroom environment, including the characters. Yes there is the generic american glaze that needs to be there to make it onto the air on most networks in the states, but once you look below that you get a pretty strong sense of how people in the news industry live and work. But if you didn’t personally like that, don’t blame the director, I think he got it spot on.
  • Vinay Patel In reply: –

    “you thought the character were dishonest, and this show was lazy, intellectually and emotionally dishonest. And all I am saying, is that the show is spot on when it comes to a newsroom environment, including the characters.”

    Lazy, as qualified above, in terms of Sorkin’s output. Emotionally dishonest in that I think the emotional integrity of characters is often compromised for the sake of story or the funnies. Intellectually dishonest both in a lot of “this used to be a great country…” stuff and that I think it’s hindsight construction is unfair (“This is how it SHOULD have been done.”) and whiffs a bit of snobbery. Sorkin has described it as a “swash-buckling romantic comedy”. I’ve never felt hectored so much by a rom-com. Rom-Coms are heightened, exaggerated realities, as is this show yet that’s exactly the sort of thing it seems to be railing against.

    “Yes there is the generic american glaze that needs to be there to make it onto the air on most networks in the states…”

    It’s HBO – they can do what they want, no? That’s their whole shtick isn’t it?

    “But if you didn’t personally like that, don’t blame the director.”

    – I’m not, I blame the writer . :)
  • Sebastian Allan Lol, yeah they probably can, but that is what the public are used to.
  • Vinay Patel The production of a show that challenges what the public are used to is surely not being creatively constructed around what the public are used to is all I mean . If it is, all the more worry!
  • Sebastian Allan I think you are missing some of the context of what this show is trying to address. I was actually out in New York working in US news at the exact same time as the show is set, and I can tell you that the atmosphere and attitude of the news/political/social scenes are pretty well observed. Also, the main character is loosely based around real life news anchors working for fox/msnbc etc and they actually do talk about how to change the country and where it has all gone wrong live on air. Another problem with your assessment of this show is that you have missed the main goal of the show, in a very clever and sneaky way, and that is that Sorkin is going after a large majority of news channels, and a huge section of the public that A) generate sensationalist ratings based drivel, and  accept everything their chosen news station feeds them as fact (FOX news is a great case in point). The rest of the show is treated in a very similar way to most american shows and I agree there are moments where, if you thought you were watching a drama then you could take umbrage at that.
  • Sebastian Allan ‘The production of a show that challenges what the public are used to is surely not being creatively constructed around what the public are used to is all I mean . If it is, all the more worry!’ I think you need to strike a balance between keeping people interested and challenging them, otherwise the show would never make it to air!!!!
  • Vinay Patel I was going to caveat this all by saying that it’s responding to a predominantly American phenomenon, as you’ve rightly pointed out, but I felt like it’s better to just look at it straight up dramatically. The context I’m sure adds to that sense of mission that I mentioned. 

    If you say Sorkin is going after those who accept everything their chosen news station feeds them as a fact, it is strange to use a new station to do it. The beauty and hope of the age we live in is that we now have a wider range of news sources beyond the traditional plutocracy. Calling out bullshit is way, way easier than it used to be – a sane news anchor’s voice, whilst nice to have, is in no way the future. It also reinforces something I find scary, which is this sort of paternalistic notion of public intelligence. “People are so dumb, they only repeat what they hear from one dude! If ONLY there was one Great Man like the old days, leading us through, we’d all be better off.” Possibly true, but not the model of the future. I admire the fact busting but, again, using old examples from real life seems a bit…I don’t know…limp?

    Again though, my primary issue I guess stems from this: a rant does not necessarily equal good drama. For me, it feels like he’s got an axe to grind (Which is fine) and has grudgingly thrown a situation and some characters around it rather than use them as a conduit to disseminate the problems. As such, The Axe takes precedent over all.

    Also, finally it suffers from the classic paradox: Everyone watching this show agrees with everything it’s saying *anyway*. Whilst Sorkin’s mission is noble, if this is his main goal, as you say ’tis, I just highly doubt that he’s actually getting through to the people whose minds he wants to change.
  • Sebastian Allan Yeah, good point
  • Sebastian Allan But it is still a great show, and at the end of the day, I couldn’t wait to watch it each week and I know loads of people who felt the same, so that is the acid test is it not?
  • Vinay Patel ALSO! Just to flag this one up specifically…The Newsroom is all about no pandering, no compromise news, right? That’s it’s entire raison d’etre. Yet, the Exec Producer wistfully knocks out a line about how a relatively under experienced economist is a better choice to do an econo segment because of the pair of legs she’s got? Mother WHAT?!
  • Vinay Patel It is! I’m still watching it, after all
  • Sebastian Allan Making no compromise news is no good unless someone is watching it!! I think that was the whole point of getting Sloane(?) on the case
  • Vinay Patel But that in itself is a compromise – just thought that would be A Bigger Deal than it was. See what you’re saying though.
    Sorry, that wasn’t the easiest read! Any responses or comments, lemme know.

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