Sorkin's 'The Newsroom': What's the verdict?
June 25th, 2012
03:06 PM ET

Sorkin's 'The Newsroom': What's the verdict?

HBO’s new series from Aaron Sorkin, “The Newsroom,” sets us up to believe that TV news anchors establish the tone for national debate - good vs. evil and substance vs. fluff.

“Newsroom,” which premiered on HBO Sunday, revolves around the fictional TV network ACN, with Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) as the anchor of the primetime newscast “News Night.”

In the premiere episode, we caught up with McAvoy as he blew his “offensive to no one” cover with a tirade on the ways in which the United States is most definitely not the greatest country in the world.

The rant, which happened at a panel held at Northwestern University, was immediately all over social media.

Will was sent on a forced vacation. When he returned, he learned that almost his entire staff had departed to work at a new show, and his new executive producer is ex-girlfriend Mackenzie MacHale (played by Emily Mortimer).

He’s not too happy about this – but it gives us the framework for creator and writer Sorkin’s “utopian news broadcast.”

Mackenzie, returning from 26 months reporting from the Middle East, has been craving the comforts of the newsroom. But she also has a mission: She wants to push Will from his comfortable “affable” anchor chair into becoming an anchor who will “speak truth to stupid” and create the “best news on TV.”

This is the much-discussed debate in the real world of the news today, with Aaron Sorkin suggesting that the media can do better than reality TV and shouting matches.

Sorkin used the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast as his vehicle for exploring this dichotomy. Will had to decide between covering the spill as the “search and rescue” for rig workers, or take the riskier route of depending on two sources who claim the explosion will lead to one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history.

But Sorkin doesn’t explore this divide as much as he plays into it. All the choices in “The Newsroom” seem to be black-and-white: Ratings or integrity? Blandness or intelligence?

The acting is excellent, but the characters often end up in shouting matches that seem to be more about dueling personalities than principles. Isn’t that what Sorkin is demanding we avoid?

As someone who works in the business, the show gets much of the newsroom culture right, and it's especially satisfying to watch as the machine whirs into action around breaking news. But while idealism definitely exists in the news world, some of the characters also seemed out of touch with the reality of the news cycle.

Iconic newsmen did hold sway over public opinion - when watching the nightly newscast was the primary source for daily news. But news today is cycled through endless Twitter accounts, blogs, YouTube videos and commentary – and TV news anchors are but one part of the national conversation.

For me, Sorkin’s championing of smart news coverage felt at odds with his characters black-and-white views, leaving little room for subtlety or complexity.

But I’m hoping that as the show develops it will more fully explore the nuances of the struggle between presenting news as entertaining vs. informative. I’d really like to see Sorkin’s characters spend more time on the motivation behind the jump, and less on the shouting matches.

The Daily Beast’s Andrew Romano wasn't sold on the series premiere.

“While Sorkin is right about the false bias toward balance that plagues the postmodern press, his decision to center the series on the real events of 2010 prevents him from dramatizing how that bias could actually be combated,” Romano wrote.

And The Guardian’s Michael Wolff wrote: “We don't really know what news is anymore. The people to whom we are delivering the news, not only know it already, but they have shared it at a light speed that the news business itself, built on its efficiency, can never match. … So why is Sorkin here, treating today's television news business as though this were 1976.”

What’d you think of “The Newsroom”?

Post by:
Filed under: television • TV recaps

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Mark S.

    Although Newsroom is entertaining, I find it interesting that the premise of the "newshour" is to deliver the news as it is, without bias. Yet the show seems to be Sorkin's vehicle to bash conservative political stands and blatantly glorify liberal perspectives. And he does does this through the main character who claims affiliation with the Teaparty. Obama and the democrats can do no wrong on this show. I votes for candidates on both sides, if it makes sense. I can't wait until the elections are over and can only hope Sorkin will put away his soapbox and produce a show just for entertainment.

    August 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Frida

    This show is fabulous! Sorry to hear writing crew that produced one season of terrific scripts are now out. Such a shame.
    No drug addicts, no violence, no end of the world blood sucking episodes...Just really good casting and amazing scripts. Keep this one ON THE AIR, please.

    July 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Eddie O'Mahony

    I though the first show was great. It held my interest throughout. I'd say working in an actual TV newsroom wouldn't be as dramatic but who cares, its TV land and its entertaining. just like West Wing. Great creative writing and dialogue
    Eddie O'Mahony

    July 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rp news

    Standard arrogant liberal crap.

    July 1, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. L. Gillette

    My husband, 25-year old son and and I watched. We all loved it. The dialogue is quick, smart and on the run. I will take all Sorkin 24/7 instead of cable news, which is now only entertainment packaged as news.

    June 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Devin

      I can't understand why this show is getting negative reviews? It is definitely the best thing on tv right now. Love the acting and story. Why hasn't it been renewed yet. Can't figure what people want. Love the personal dynamics and banter between characters.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew kingsbury

      What are talking about? What Planet are the people from that actually talk like this?? The dialogue is over done. It's as if every character on the show took pills at the same time during a "speed party". I do like the "news" portion of the show. But after seeing the 2nd episode of the series I can only hope that it was all sorkin's intention to make the characters this unreal and that they change into what he actually believes human beings are.

      It figures that an employee of CNN, a company owned by the same peoole that own CNN, would subtly recommend that we continue watching in hopes that the dialogue and characters go through a rigorous transformation. Sadly, I will watch episode 3 and hope they will.

      July 1, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. K. Perkins

    My husband and I watched the show with an open mind, hoping to find something on tv to watch that has some substance and panache. Thankfully, our interest is piqued enough to watch "Newsroom" again this week. I have learned to give new shows more than one opportunity to attract my attention. I personally hope it has more empathetic voices scripted than "West Wing". I enjoyed WW but also felt it emanated unstable emotions through the screen....maybe I'm nuts.

    June 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tiara

    Because of the lukewarm reviews of critics, I didnt watch the pilot last Sunday. I waited for the morning after reviews and was disheartened by the continuing negative feed backs but was challenged to see the recorded program. And was I so relieved I followed my instincts! The show is great! I love it! I felt I was in the middle of a war! The characters are good. So that's how the breaking news is, well, 'broken'. very interesting. The show is relevant , especially today when CNN and FOX got it wrong for their breaking news regarding the health care law decision from the Supreme Court.

    June 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gumby

    Critics got it wrong! GREAT, great show! Hopefully as stirring as West Wing was when running on all cylinders. Laughing. Crying. Certainly some of Sorkin's best dialogue. Can't wait to see characters blossom.

    Can't wait till Sunday. Must see (cable) TV!

    June 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mikrik13

    Finally something actually worth watching on sunday evening. One can only take so much vampire love.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. Brian

    As a former news anchor from the 5th largest market, this hit home. Every "Journalist" starts their career hoping to change the World and be the next Walter Cronkite. But, in turn, the newsrooms change them. Easy, quick stories are the name of the game. The tone and nervousness of the show were perfect – everyone is ALWAYS scared they will lose their job, and any new face is regarded as the enemy. I think this is a great show and will watch every week. The fact it's after True Blood, just means I need to grab another bottle of wine and pencil in two hours every Sunday. My liver thanks you HBO!

    June 28, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  11. BobK

    Great show. As for those who say Sorkin is liberal, the show is exactly the point....why does everybody who doesn't agree with us have to be wrong. I hope the show continues to prod everyone to think. And the opening rant was on the money. But with the old also came discrimination, cold war, slavery, lets learn and not do it again.

    June 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Panamaerin

    Wow. Watched the Sunday am "Newsies" pan this show on Howard Kurtz's program. We went on to watch it despite their criticisms...and we Loved it. Great witing and acting..laughs too.Can't wait until next week.
    "Physicians heal Thyselves"!

    June 27, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  13. Avid TV Watcher

    I haven't seen the pilot episode yet but it seems to me that this is a reprint of the extremely successful show of Candace Bergen's called "Murphy Brown" which was set in a newsroom, as a news magazine show, where news-to-inform rather than political-pandering was the backbone of the comedy/drama. It ran for 8 successful years as a 1 hour weekly sit com/drama in the days where a "Season" wasn't 8 or 10 shows, but the full 26 – one new show a week for 1/2 a year followed by the "off season" repeats for the 2nd 1/2 of the year. TV when TV was truly great!!

    I also loved West Wing, the TV follow-up to Aaron's film "The American President" which used the same sets and mostly the same cast as well. West Wing was definitely a timely gem, let's hope this one is much more in keeping to the ideals of "Murphy Brown" than "Sports Night"... SN...that really was a horrifyingly bad piece of dung and we have far too much of that type of show these days already. You know... goofy-funny, dumb-funny, Adam Sandler other words... not funny.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Devin

    Loved it. Loved the depth of the characters . Very surprised that Mac really was in the audience and not just being imagined.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Maria

    Loved it – great acting, intriguing story, good pace that kept you engaged. I could see why the media reviewers didn't care for it; they're too close to the subject and can't be very objective about it. (As a doctor, I hate TV medical dramas because it's so unrealistic and way too dramatic, repeating and over-emphasing really rare disorders as if it were the common cold.)

    June 26, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  16. bootcamp6weeks

    I was disappointed. Too much talk talk talk talk talk. I expected more "expose" and more dark humor thrown in just divert attention away from the seriousness of current affairs. I will definitely give Newsroom another shot next week because I love Jeff Daniels and the intention this series seems to possess.

    June 26, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Leigha

    I had full intentions of changing the channel after True Blood, but glad I decided to give Newsroom a try...I was entertained throughout. Jeff Daniels is a sarcastic jack@$$ and I like it. His and Emily Mortimer's chemistry was great to watch...I also liked Alison Pill. I think I will stick around at least another show....convenient for me that it comes on after True Blood 🙂

    June 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Lou Calaizzo

    West Wing was goo.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Michael Calaizzo

    Sorkin is so liberal!

    June 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Joe

    I watched the show primarily because my wife was already watching True Blood. I was ready to turn the channel a few times when the characters, and their views starting becoming to black and white. But then that nuance of gray would creep in, and make me stay. I'm not 100% onboard with the show yet, although the acting is first rate, I think I will need to see more gray from these characters. No one is purely this or that, all liberal or all conservative – we all have areas that overlap, and that's what I want to see in future episodes. It's a good beginning though.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  21. A.St-Pierre

    Loved the premiere. It's about time someone sets the news world straight. The news is so bias now, and anchors so focused and ratings that information has now been shifted from what people must know to what people want to hear. Truth and facts are now spinned and transformed to maych to you audience because I guess some people feel that we are to stupid to understand it and make an opinion of it.

    The first scene at Northwestern University was a good kick in the theet for a lot of people and everyone should look at it.

    June 26, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  22. VT_Citizen

    Smart television is back! What a breath of fresh air. I loved every minute of it.

    June 26, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  23. jesse

    I've worked in a newsroom. This is a pompous and pedantic attempt to show how things actually work (dare I say, Mr. Sorkin hasn't spent much time working in one). I was very disappointed in the first episode – an expert on drilling happens to be in the Newsroom as a "worker bee"? God, the spill would have been cleaned up so much sooner!

    June 26, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Older chick

      Apparently you really didn't watch the episode. There was no one in the newsroom that was an expert on oil spills. There was however a young man who had sources & a lot ow work by the intern/assistant. Perhaps you should really pay attention before you post!

      June 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Just Rockwell

    I loved the show. I does seem to give some insight into how a newsroom works. Although I've never been a big Jeff Daniels fan, I really do like him on this show. I hope it's successful.

    June 26, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  25. Marcia Rodd

    I thought it was riveting! I loved every second. So smart, so literate, so well filmed, directed and acted. Raises the bar. Kudos to Sorkin. He and David Kelly are the best writers in television, or maybe anywhere!

    June 26, 2012 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
  26. B. Scheile

    Loved it. Good story line, excellent acting, great choices for leads, look forward to the episode. Not surprised that today's pretend journalists are trying to paint it as less than successful. Maybe this will motivate them to try a little harder to remember what they do for a living.

    June 25, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  27. denise

    Loved it. And I am finding it hilarious that the media is panning it. A show that shows how news could be that is being mocked by news outlets that are... um... not speaking truth to stupid.

    June 25, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Joan Camara

    I really, really, really enjoyed the show – but it's no surprise that the mainstream media spent a lot of time mocking it (and Sorkin) before the first show. The news media simnply can't handle any legitimate criticism that exposes its emasculation over the past decade. It prefers to believe that the public wants "dumbed'down" and "simplified" reporting. That's really the only "message" that Sorkin is sending.

    June 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  29. RS Towne

    Aaron Sorkin is a national treasure. And "The Newsroom" bristles with the integrity of an Edward R. Murrow and the madcap epiphanies of Howard Beale. Sure Sorkin has too much to say. Because he can - better than anyone. AND entertain. Paddy Chayevsky and the founding fathers are loving it.

    June 25, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Sally Eaton

    I LOVED this show! Born early in the post WWII boomer wave, I well remember Murrow and Cronkite. In this election year I think 'The Newsroom' could have as much influence as Stone's 'JFK' did in 1992. It really seems aimed at my generation, still a huge chunk of the American electorate. Speaking truth to stupid had me howling! Kudos to Sorkin, HBO, et al for this awesome new series.

    June 25, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  31. tonyyy

    the polls are in.... white people love 'newsroom'

    June 25, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  32. J. Wilson

    I found it both cathartic and stirring to hear many of the frustrations and disappointments I have felt in the world of 24 hour news bombardment articulated so eloquently. The pilot felt like the brazen overture to a fantastic series. I was hooked before the opening credits and already feel impatient for next week's episode.

    June 25, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gouda

      Wow professor, you sure are the eloquent kind! Would it perturb you that I declare the fact you propagate yourself as a d 0uche?

      June 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  33. napjeeper

    I liked it. I think the show has more room to grow, but the intention of this episode was to introduce motivation and characters. As such it was compelling and a good set up for a show that could be an epic run.

    June 25, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  34. M. White

    I don't want to think of it as if it as a thought provoking show, I want to be entertained and that it did perfectly.

    June 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  35. H. Johnson

    I loved it. The rant echoed my feelings to a T - pretty much shocking me to attention. I love all the characters except the ex -EP (which I think we're supposed to) and I can't wait for next week!

    June 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Gordon Blakeney

    I just finished watching the DVR recording and liked it. (Being old I will always record it so I can go back to catch something I don't understand the first time!)

    June 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

About this blog

Our daily cheat-sheet for breaking celebrity news, Hollywood buzz and your pop-culture obsessions.