“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.