Even journalists themselves cannot seem to agree on whether or not the show accurately portrayed the field; while Dave Marash argued the show did not portray the news industry accurately, former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather found the show “gets close to the bone of what happens, what really happens, behind the scenes in newsrooms and the boardrooms that govern them.”
The truth is, there may not be a way to evaluate the authenticity of the show in terms of its depiction of reality in a newsroom; behavior in newsrooms is almost certainly not going to be universal in the high number of studios across the field. But should it even be evaluated based on that? “The Newsroom” is an HBO TV series – not a documentary, and not even a “based on a true story” film. It’s a fictional newsroom, with fictional characters that happen to interact with actual events that will go into our history books.
So, for the sake of keeping this blog post a blog post and to avoid writing an in-depth novel, I’m going to give a quick analysis of the show from a critic’s eyes, using the same standards I used as an Arts & Entertainment Staff Writer when reviewing TV shows and movies. It’s worth noting I have never actually regularly watched anything written by Aaron Sorkin before, so I do not consider myself a fan of the man himself. I’m simply evaluating my individual viewing experience.
The Premise: Will McAvoy, a news anchor at the fictional Atlantic Cable News network, finds himself at the center of attention after a video of him ranting about how America is no longer the greatest country in the world goes viral. Two weeks later, he's forced to begin working alongside MacKenzie "Mac" McHale as their boss, Charlie Skinner (played by Sam Waterson) tries to reinvent Will’s show and make a news broadcast that covers important issues thoroughly, rather than passively observing and presenting the news – in essence aiming to create a solution for the problems Will ranted about.
The result is that, for most of these episodes, in addition to covering breaking news stories, Will criticizes and deconstructs the platforms of major Tea Party candidates, and mainly Tea Party candidates. (Hm. I’m starting to see where people feel the show is a personal soapbox for Sorkin…)
Charlie Skinner as a character adds his own flair to the mix thanks to his love of Bourbon, as well as a personality and tendency to use explicit language that were both obviously influenced by his stint in the Marines. Over time the other members of the news team are introduced and explored, and they add wonderful dashes of personality to an already hilarious mix of characters.
My favorite character? Jim Harper.
The Story: It’s hard to talk about the story without possibly spoiling interesting developments that occur in the show. So, I’ll keep this brief: if you like romantic comedies or character dramas, this is probably a good show for you. The tension in the story comes not only from the leads and their history, but an additional love triangle in the newsroom. And half of the joy of the show is not the news reports, but the interactions between characters as they attempt to put newscasts together on a daily basis without suffering complete mental breakdowns due to the stress of the job or personal drama. Sorkin may be what some call preachy in his writing, but one thing I think he and his team can do well is write intersting, entertaining characters and dialogue. And thank God for that, because while covering breaking news can be extremely stressful and exciting, day-to-day reporting itself is really not. Something has to carry this show forward, and it isn't always going to be the news!
Overall: I’m one of the people who fell into this world completely and loved every second of it. There are two parts I enjoy when “The Newsroom." One is the well-written characters and dialogue; both combine and create a show that just makes me smile and care about what's going on. The other is watching the reporting of events that some of us have probably already forgotten. BP’s massive oil spill, for example, is rarely brought up today. In fact, it’s been mentioned that the point of setting the show in recent history is to remind people how quickly news falls out of the headlines and into history in our fast paced society. For me, a past journalism student, I find a lot of the joys in this show to be subtle hints and touches in the characters, the reporting, and the setting.
My favorite episode? “5/1.”