30 Day Television Challenge: Day Three

Your favorite new show (aired this t.v season): The Newsroom

I should say at the beginning I’ve only seen the first three episodes of The Newsroom. When I started this challenge a few days ago, I looked through the questions, saw this day’s challenge, and realized I hadn’t watched any of the new shows from this season. So, I checked a few episodes so I could give this day some kind of justice.

That said, I had some interest in checking out The Newsroom, despite some mixed reactions from friends of mine. Aaron Sorkin created the show, and I do enjoy the majority of his work – I thought Moneyball and The Social Network were both brilliantly written. Luckily, this challenge forced me to finally get around to checking it out.

But, I digress.

The Newsroom centers around the nightly news show “News Night” of the fictional TV network ACN. The series begins with Will McAvoy, News Night’s anchor played by Jeff Daniles, having a Howard Bealesque breaking at a college lecture. Will returns to ACN a few weeks later to find his program has been overhauled by Charlie Skinner, the news division president played Sam Waterston. What’s more, Will’s new executive producer is none other than his former lover Mackenzie MacHale, played by Emily Mortimer. Mackenzie vows that she will bring integrity to News Night and Will eventually acquiesces.

The show is set about 2 years in the past, with the first episode dealing with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and then moves forward into the genesis of the Tea Party. On top of showing the challenges of producing a quality news program, it shows the challenges of producing a news program at all. It depicts characters bumping into each other while trying to put together an hour-long program each night.

I like that the show takes as its subject a news program that attempts to address the failures of middle-brow journalism. News Night’s mantra is that a well-informed electorate is necessary for a healthy democracy. Therefore, a news show’s raison d’etre is to inform its viewers, not entertain them or reinforce their prejudices. Accordingly, Will and Mackenzie elect to prioritize reportage over pandering for ratings.

As cynical as I can be at times, I buy into this sentiment. I agree with Thomas Jefferson that a democracy needs a well-informed electorate, and I agree that news programs have long been sensationalized and polarized. It’s true that TV may not be the best medium for quality reportage and that print is more suited for the news, but TV has two distinct advantages: a) TV can be broadcast live and is thus more immediate than print, and b) people actually watch TV, whereas print is increasingly marginalized. Therefore, it stands that a news show is a vital ingredient in creating an informed electorate.

Unfortunately, news shows are beholden to network, who are beholden to share holders. This means that news shows must turn a profit or they have no reason to exist. In turn, news shows pander to audiences, sensationalize threats, and scandalize celebrities, politicians, etc.

Trying to avoid the trapping of network television, News Night focuses on stories the producers feel are relevant to voters’ interest, ignores sexy headlines that may yield ratings but are irrelevant, relies on facts and experts, and challenges Democrats and Republicans alike (especially Tea Partiers). This gets them in trouble with constituents, congress members, lobbyists, network execs, and the Koch bros.

News Night is fighting the good fight and I can’t help but finding myself rooting for them.

I also like how they’ve taken a new take on a well-trodden setting: the newsroom. There have been shows and movies in the past that have dramatized the news trade, but The Newsroom feels fresh enough.

The Newsroom, however, is not without its flaws.

My biggest issue, is that the show often borders on the didactic. Characters can sometimes descend into grandstanding and preaching. Will, Mackenzie, and Charlie all too often wax poetic on the moral duty of news programs and how they’re taking the high road while the nasty execs are too caught up with ratings, etc. Like I said before, I support News Night’s agenda, and if you’re watching the show you probably do as well, so I often feel like they’re preaching to the choir, or worse, trying to teach the audience a lesson *blech*.

Also, the show’s greatest curse is also its greatest gift: Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is a brilliant writer, who’s written A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Moneyball and The Social Network. The Newsroom is Sorkin’s baby. Accordingly, Sorkin seems to have unlimited creative control. And, like, other brilliant writers working in TV/film (Joss Whedon and Quintin Tarrintino for example), Sorkin oftentimes likes to hear himself write. This translates into lengthy dramatic monologues or overly witty and snappy dialogue.

Nonetheless, The Newsroom is a quality show. Thus far, I’d give it an 8/10, keeping in mind I’ve only seen the first 3 episodes. Perhaps it’ll iron out its foibles by the end of the season, or maybe it’ll succumb to Sorkin’s ego. Either way, I’m willing to see it through to at least the end of the first season.

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on September 6, 2012.

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