I thought I missed the “West Wing” but now I realize I didn’t miss it at all.
With the same soaring strings minus the brass, “The Newsroom” debuted on HBO last night. The new show is created by Aaron Sorkin, who created the “West Wing” and the movie “The Social Network.” Like both of those works, his new show features rapid-fire dialogue, a defense of intellectualism and a charismatic male lead surrounded by an entourage.
“The Newsroom” is about the remaking of a nightly news show after its anchor, Will McAvoy goes on a tirade about how America is no longer the greatest country on earth in an appearance at Northwestern University. Afterward, he claims it was vertigo medicine that made him do it. His boss brings in a new executive producer, who is an ex girlfriend, and while he’s humiliating her into quitting before she starts, the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico blows up. New crew quickly comes together, delivers kick-ass newscast and America is saved, one show at a time. Here is a trailer for the first episode below.
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In the first episode, there are not one, not two, but three sanctimonious speeches about America, the way things used to be and the value of journalism. We are pounded over the head by a Don Quixote analogy. To lighten things up, we have repetitive physical comedy — two people trip, one person is choked by a phone headset. For romance, there’s the stormy relationship between the 40 year olds (the anchor <3 exec producer) as well as the 20-30 year olds (the anchor's new assistant <3 ex-exec producer). Think Josh Lyman and Donna Moss.
I will definitely be watching for the next month.
The best part of the show is watching the newscast come together in real time, even if two highly placed sources have never called me, unsolicited, within the first 30 seconds of a major environmental, corporate disaster. I get the feeling it’s going to be like watching the movie “Broadcast News” for the first time over and over again. Only a writer as snappy as Sorkin could sustain this for a whole series.
Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, is appealingly complex (compared to the “West Wing’s” Jed Bartlett) as the center of the show. He’s self loathing, arrogant, bombastic — much like several male journalists I know. And fuzzy eyebrows from Law & Order is news director! You may know him as Sam Waterston. This actor was killing it as Abe Lincoln long before “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Emily Mortimer is not quite believable as an executive producer who was once stabbed in the stomach covering a riot, but she is a sharp writer of sound bites and relationship advice.
I will choose this portrayal of journalism every Sunday over the blowhard editor and fiction-writing reporter of HBO’s series “The Wire.” Because I tap fist to chest when Sorkin sings the values of journalism. We arm people with knowledge so they can fully participate in a democracy. We ask hard questions of powerful institutions when nobody else will. The news is better when it has opinions. But I only want to hear one speech about it each week.