“The Newsroom”–A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Cable TV News

In the opening episode, veteran news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is asked by a fresh-faced journalism student what makes America the greatest country on earth.  Cajoled into giving a substantive response by the moderator, Will McAvoy throws caution aside and proceeds in a blistering monologue filled with statistics to explain why America isn’t.  The collateral damage becomes significant. His boss (Sam Waterston) considers the episode a meltdown.

The meltdown forces him to reassess his former self–a time when news reporting was about defending the ideals of a culture and truth telling. Then Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), a heroic war correspondent and McAvoy’s former lover, becomes the executive producer to monitor his erratic behavior. For Will this is a nightmare, since their romantic relationship ended in heartbreak. Nonetheless, Mackenzie is the one person who can jolt him out of his apathy.

Aaron Sorkin (the writer of “A Few Good Men”, “American President”, “West Wing” and “Social Network”) commands the viewer’s attention with biting dialogue, a gifted cast, and a flinch-inducing, provocative exploration of American politics. This is not to say that the piercing, no-holds-barred monologues will unite audiences of all political persuasions. If you share Sorkin’s politics, you will watch “The Newsroom” every week in amazement at the tenacity of the script.

Incredibly high stakes are involved:  Who tells us what the truth is?  Who sloppily forgets to get a second verification of facts?  What exactly is involved in news reporting with integrity– under tight deadlines?

The portrayal of personal relationships, however, is a disappointment. Will and MacKenzie as squabbling former lovers are dreary and cringe producing, diminishing their intelligence and professionalism.  The young intern Maggie (Alison Pill) is the love interest for two jealous staff reporters (Thomas Sadoski and John Gallagher Jr.) who should just move on and forget about her. However, Jane Fonda, as the female Ted Turner who owns the network, could prove a wonderfully ruthless foil to electrify the business side of competitive broadcasting in a declining market.  However, Sorkin has yet to exploit Fonda’s potential in this role.

I only hope Aaron Sorkin can keep the monologues at such an intellectually vibrant level, setting the bar so high.  I’d rather watch an edgy show that aims high and sometimes falls short, than one that doesn’t. And I’d rather watch a great screenwriter in action than a run-of-the-mill one.

Comments (12)

  • The “Newsroom” sounds like it will give us some food for thought. I have not been happy with the way the news is reported for years. There is too little information in the sound bite method they use. I listen for more, and there is no more.

    In fact, we do not watch the News at all. Most of what we need is on-line at Headlines, BBC America, sponsored by Microsoft.

    We liked West Wing. It was beautifully written and the actors spectacular. It is frightening to know how the real world works.

    • I agree. Try BBC America on television. You will get fascinating coverage of international news never covered on CNN, as well as “human interest” stories that have a more obscure subject, for example, the recent feature on art therapy for US veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome. I also like their coverage of US politics and their obituaries of celebrated individuals, not necessarily “celebrities”. The obituary on Gore Vidal was especially noteworthy.

  • The Newsroom is the best work on TV today! It is the best work Jeff Daniells has ever done. And I’m really happy for him to have a roll where he shines. The cast is so well put together… if they are not all really total brainy people one would never know it. Episode one was a stunner, two not so much, three back at the good stuff, four I decided I needed to see three again… so I watched them for a second time, four gave me courage that there are still people out there with bravery and courage , and last night five was fantastic, Sloan (really fluent in Chinese?) is a kick butt smart woman with whom I am struggling to understand her character… smart but insecure? Anyway my husband and I are huge fans. We loved the West Wing and Sorkin produced that one as well. I guess one must enjoy timely snappy smart dialog to get this one. It’s fast….gotta keep up.

  • I just saw a bit from that program with Will McAvoy and I am sick of it already. Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16K6m3Ua2nw&feature=share.
    What kind of nonsense is that? He’s beating up on the USA because……..he’s able to make his money on a TV show with a sensationalist tirade not fit to listen to. I think I may have lived when he says America was the “Greatest country in the world”. Then there was outright racism, homophobia, every minority had a common derogatory name: spick, nigger, wop, chink, jap, hun etc., even Americans: Okie, Arkie, and on and on. There was a downright depression until we went to war in 1941. Sex wasn’t even talked about. Lennie Bruce was put in jail for obscenities. If McAvoy had said “Fuck”, then he could have been put in jail. Do you remember? When was HIS GREATEST AMERICA? Whatever else, America has a culture of trying to get better. I don’t want to live anywhere else. Joanne

  • Dear Diana,
    I’m so glad I have a chance to vent my anger and disappointment with Aaron Sorkin’s new show. We have finally stopped watching it.

    The first episode was a mess of confusion and blah blah speeches but we forgave Sorkin knowing how hard it is for a new show to get its voice. The only good part was his wonderful and honest speech about the decline of America. So Jerry and I only got a little depressed.

    The next show was equally dreadful, and the silly characters and silly love plots between main characters and the twatty blonde nudge ( who is a wonderful serious actress, see “In Treatment”) and others drove us crazy. Now we really got depressed. But ever loyal to Sorkin we taped on.

    Episode three got more interesting especially when they brought in Jane Fonda. And we kept telling others to keep on with the show, not to give up hope. We adore Sorkin. We even saw his “failed” play, The Farnsworth Invention which we thought was great. So we were heartened and only a little depressed. (It’s funny the way a bad show, movie or even book can make you feel lousy, like you’ve wasted your time and was let down by the author. )

    Episode four went back to being even worse than the first three with the Head banging–THREE times, the nonsense Valentine’s Day stuff, the undignified and loud and inane arguments about the personal sex lives of the Lead characters in front of their staffs. Really!

    Also, I don’t like Jeff Daniels interpretation of the character. Neither do I like Mackenzie who is another great actress in other venues. Perhaps its the fact that Sorkin is too big, not available to hear honest criiscism and make changes. The show has already been picked up for next season but the writing staff has been changed –except for Sorkin. Maybe the Emperor needs a new set of clothes.

    So we quit. Still depressed, tho, cause we were looking forward to juicy evenings watching and this ain’t it. I guess we’ll have to go back to playing Maj.


    • Oh Tobala, I do feel bad for your onset of depression over Sorkin. I too am a keen Sorkin fan, but not as harsh as you both are about “The Newsroom”. I love the show in spite of all of its blemishes–and I agree about the silly love plots. Maybe with Jane Fonda adding sizzle, you will try the show again.

  • Great review Diana. I’ll be sharing it with my bf, since he is a complete news hound. Hopefully we will be able to watch it.

    • “The Newsroom” is definitely for viewers who cannot get enough of the news. In addition, I think the main characters give the audience a feel of what pressure there must be “behind the scenes” in a television newsroom. Enjoy!

  • Hi Diana,
    Rich and I, and several of my peers at work are Newsroom ‘junkies’-we love it!! Like you–I wonder if the quality of the writing can continue at the current level? Let’s hope so!


    • Glad you have a circle of fans to enjoy this show with. A number of critics and blog followers do not agree–Sorkin raises everyone’s expectations, so not everyone thinks it is worthy of his past work. I do think “The Newsroom” has its flaws, but I’m a fervent believer that the show will get even better!

  • Hi Diana:
    Thanks to your review, I’ll figure out how to see The Newsroom. We don’t get HBO currently.

    Did want to add that while The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel left our premium theater before I could get there, it did reappear at another local theater. We had houseguests and all agreed it was the perfect entertainment. Even our 30-something son reported liking it. I was last in India in 1966, but found that the movie evoked many of the images I continue to carry around in my head. Again, thanks for your review and recommendation.


    • You MUST see “The Newsroom” somehow, someway. Since both of you were so involved in the field of Communications, your names are on this film–you both will have so many discussions after watching each episode. I guarantee you’ll love this series.

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