Continuing our series of TV shows you need to see, it’s HBO’s soon-to-be-concluded The Newsroom.
The fourth instalment in the fan cherished series Game of Thrones recently concluded with the usual anticipated praise, but what is more interesting about HBO’s roster this season is the announcement of the third and final chapter of The Newsroom. HBO’s growing faith in the series is indebted to the creative genius of its show-runner and creator, Aaron Sorkin. In its wishful idealism, the innovative series is written as both a critique of and love-letter to the news media institution. Following the success of Sorkin’s other well-known feats, The West Wing and The Social Network, The Newsroom epitomises the creative shifts in the evolution of modern television.
The often self-important and tempered news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is, as he asserts in one of his usual tantrums, “on a mission to civilise”. Taking centre desk at Atlantis Cable News (ACN) for its news programme News Night, McAvoy collaborates with a new team of fresh-faced colleagues to helm a news programme that reclaims the supposedly missing integrity of modern journalism. Reminiscent of old-school public service broadcasting, News Night aims to inform the electorate and move away from television as a business into providing an hour of informational programming. News Night is founded on humble intentions and McAvoy and his brigade of mavericks are determined to correct the flaws of an industry that is supposedly in peril. In Sorkin’s utopian take on the news industry, value is stressed in the quality of information over the ratings of a show.
The show is set in a not-so-distant past and finds drama in everyday news of the world, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill
The Newsroom is quite the cathartic experience in the way the story arcs dramatically uncoil to reveal familiar events. In a rather odd choice, the show is set in a not-so-distant past and finds drama in the everyday news of the world, such as the 2010 catastrophe of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Newsroom’s timeframe relives past events to make them even more accessible and relevant, and this connection to time is integral to the show’s development. Sorkin manages to tune into this generation and capture the zeitgeist of the moment.
The show chimes into the national dialogue on institutional and political strife in the American public and channels concerns with heated topics, such as the tensions between the military and homosexuality. Whilst it can often be long-winded in its liberal fervour, Sorkin’s show is its own political campaign against the problems with the news institution. MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), McAvoy’s producer and emotional crutch, declares News Night’s reformation as “the death of bitchiness, gossip and voyeurism” in modern journalism.
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The show takes place behind-the-scenes in crafting a fictional news programme, and the technical execution of the piece captures the tense atmosphere involved in the practical production of filmmaking. It is shot in a way that is often disorientating and overwhelming, if not frustrating, and the rapid editing creates a vertigo emulating the spirit and the fast-paced demands of journalism. The show manages to extract a genuine impression of the energetic workplace and the off-camera happenings within the newsroom environment.
The Newsroom does contain a sprawl of characters, story arcs and themes and the show is peppered with wit, rage, passion and romance, and has plenty of heart. Despite the show’s predilection to be burdensome with its themes and its dialogue-heavy rants, the joy and frustration of it all captures the essence of television production. The Newsroom’s critique of the moral ambiguity of modern journalism is counterbalanced by Sorkin’s idealism in the potential for the profession. In an interview on NOW with Alex Wagner, Sorkin noted the “constant allusions to imaginary lost cities” interwoven into The Newsroom’s commentary on modern America and American media. The most notable reference to this is subtly meshed into the cable network’s own handle, Atlantis (of ACN).
Despite the show’s burdensome themes and dialogue-heavy rants, the frustration of it all captures the essence of TV production
Sorkin’s idealism can be quite dismissive of journalism in its attempt to fix the faults of an already functional machine; but he is optimistic for the future of television and journalism alike. Season one of the series opens with a heavy-handed speech delivered by McAvoy that aptly frames the spirit of the show. However, Sorkin creates an oddly sentimental impression of nostalgia for an America that has never existed. Sorkin’s idealism borderlines the quixotic and is offset by the show’s moments of self-mockery.
An economist for News Night, Sloan Sabbath (Olivia Munn) talks of a “greater fool”, or a patsy that seeks success where others have failed. Perhaps a gesture of self-critique or a nudge at the many cynics of his show, regardless Sorkin’s show is as playful as it is serious with its subjects. There is depth and breadth in Sorkin’s well-orchestrated drama that finds its themes in the everyday, for example the fleeting experience of workplace romances. The sense of urgency imparted into the way the show is filmed builds into the velocity of the profession and the newsroom. Sorkin’s creative expression is one of The Newsroom’s greatest accomplishments – he manages to find a silver lining in a business where the ratings are currency, and gauge the success of a programme.
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All images: HBO