DONNA J. PLESH
At left, JEFF DANIELS as a troubled TV
news anchor. Above, two-time Oscar
winner JANE FONDA as the network boss.
The Newsroom, premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday June 24 on HBO.
Aaron Sorkin's backstage
view of a TV news network
By DONNA J, PLESH
Cable TV news channels. CNN, Fox and MSNBC, among others, are there for viewers 24/7. But did you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of these shows?
HBOs new 10-episode drama The Newsroom shows us just that but remember, this is a fictional cable news network. Created by Aaron Sorkin, who won an Academy Award for writing The Social Network and who also gave us TVs The West Wing, the series looks at the public and private lives of a driven group of dedicated news types, led by news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels)
Viewer favorite McAvoy anchors the 8 p.m. flagship news show News Night on the ACN Network. Hes a newscaster who has become stoic, complacent, a play-it-safe guy who avoids ruffling feathers with anything resembling politics in his newscasts.
But at a public forum his totally out of character remarks regarding American patriotism ruffle feathers and the network makes him take several weeks off in the form of a forced vacation. When he returns to the job he finds his staff has all moved on to other shows, and he has to work with new staffers and a new producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), a woman he was romantically involved with in the past.
McAvoys other new staffers are mostly young, including his new senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.), who worked with McHale in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains one of her friends. Other new staffers are Margaret Jordan (Alison Pill) a former intern and now an associate producer; Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), the financial news reporter, and Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), who writes McAvoys blog and searches the Internet for stories others may have missed.
Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), who is a lot like McAvoy and who is his former producer, has moved on to the program following McAvoys show. Hes also having a romantic relationship with Margaret Jordan, and seems to hang around a lot with the new News Night team. The network news president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) is an old-school guy who answers only to Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), who runs the corporation that owns the ACN Network.
The table is set but all does not run smoothly. McAvoy isnt a very nice guy and the staff does not really like him. Hes just not very likeable. McHale is out to change McAvoy and how he delivers the newscast. Early on she tells him he is the Jay Leno of news anchors because you dont bother anyone. Skinner has brought McHale on board in hopes she can bring out the passion in him to challenge him to abandon his old, middle-of-the-road, play-it-safe approach to the news, and==gasp(!)--toss out an opinion now and then. Slowly he moves into those uncharted waters, but not without a lot of bumps along the road.
Though the series is set at a fictional network, the news stories it covers are recent real news events, such as the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. When this story breaks, the show picks up steam as everyone on the team immediately jumps into action to get the details of the story as quickly and accurately as possible and get it on the air.
Woven into the episodes are what is going on in the staffers personal lives the shows soap opera-ish elementsthat often spill over onto the job.
The acting is excellent all around, with Waterston, the veteran from "Law & Order," chewing up every scene hes in. It made me realize all over again why I watched Law & Order: It was because of his great work on that series.
Daniels, mainly known for his big screen work, is fine as a sleeping giant of an anchor who is finally awakened by the fire ignited in him by Mortimers McHale character. Mortimer, also known primarily for her work on the big screen, is a gentle but tough producer still carrying a torch for McAvoy. The show does tend to slow when she seemingly goes all girly and, I feel, out of character when she tries to find out just who McAvoy is dating.
And dont forget Jane Fondain her brief appearances as the Woman in Charge of It All. Her character is tough as nails and her back and forth discussions with Waterston about News Night are reason enough to watch this series.
All of the characters are passionate and opinionated. There is a lot of verbal back and forth sparring between McAvoy and McHale, as well as between several of the younger staffers. A little of this is fine, but at times it seems laboredand way too talky. And preachy.
Should you watch this series? Yes, if you are a news junkie and wonder how the news gets on the air. Yes, if you are a fan of Sam Waterston, Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer. Yes, if you are a fan of Sorkin and loved The West Wing. The Newsroom is pure Sorkin opinionated, preachy, brash and, yes, wait for it, political!
©2012 by Donna J. Plesh. This column first posted June 18, 2012.
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