Crashing Pilots: The Newsroom
By David Mumpower
June 28, 2012
My cohort Tom Houseman has invited the rest of the BOP staff to participate in his Crashing Pilots, and the return to television of Aaron Sorkin struck me as the perfect opportunity to participate. I would note a couple of key differences between Mr. Houseman’s viewing habits and my own before going any further.
In his introductory script, he mentions that he gave Modern Family another chance a couple of seasons after the pilot. I am of the opinion that Modern Family is one of the best pilots in sitcom history. And he has pointed out that he primarily focuses on sitcoms. I am someone who enjoys all forms of serial television from seven episode BBC sitcoms to the 23 chapter flow of Murder One’s first season. My favorite television programs in the 2000s are largely dramas such as Gilmore Girls, Firefly and Battlestar Galactica but my all-time favorite series are titles such as The Simpsons, The Wonder Years and Sports Night. All forms of television are agreeable to me.
The topic of this column is The Newsroom, which is a program of note to someone who has already acknowledged Sports Night as one of their favorite series. Long time readers of BOP are well aware of our staff’s love affair with the work of Aaron Sorkin. The author I consider to be the world’s greatest living poet is a source of continual amusement to me, not because of his individual talents but instead due to the impact of his mystique on others.
Those who read the reviews of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip remember the incendiary attacks on the program’s central premise. The critics tasked with judging the show on its own merits failed completely in this regard, instead bemoaning the underlying theme of the show. As Tina Fey was given a pass for a show with the same premise, Sorkin was systematically assaulted for having the audacity to do what he has always done: examine what happens behind the curtain of a specific business. Previous professions were sports media and the executive branch of the American government. When Sorkin chose Hollywood and a Saturday Night Live-inspired theme, however, that was beyond the pale to many.
Gawker in particular had an axe to grind with the series as well as its creator. The rancor of their obsession reached a crescendo at the oddest time: years after the show’s cancellation. One of their humorists (?) inexplicably live tweeted his thoughts during a marathon viewing of the entire season. The entire affair felt like a lame attempt to kick someone while they were down, but Sorkin had the final laugh when his work in The Social Network was rewarded with a long overdue Academy Award for writing. The fact that he did not even receive a nomination for 1992’s A Few Good Men still blows me away 20 years later, particularly because of the mediocrity of ten nominees chosen in his stead. But I digress. After decades spent building the respect and awe of his peers, Sorkin finally broke through the glass ceiling and was acknowledged for what he is, one of the greatest living scribes.
In the interim, Sorkin’s grudge with the rush to judgment nature of the social media era has intensified. As is his wont, Sorkin has chosen to attack the issue directly. With The Newsroom, his first HBO program, the vaunted director states exactly this purpose through the voice of a character. The belief is that the nightly news was once the stateliest of endeavors and that a proper refocusing could lead to its return to greatness. With this lone conceit, Sorkin has lobbed a holy hand grenade at all major news gathering organizations, many of whom comprise the composite voice of the Internet. Heady with recent career triumphs, Aaron Sorkin has picked the most all-encompassing fight possible. No matter what you may think of them, you have to admire his temerity.