Crashing Pilots: The Newsroom
By David Mumpower
June 28, 2012
The early skirmishes have been predictable. The same people who unfairly dismissed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip out of hand are now quick to dismiss The Newsroom for its sanctimony. I swear to God that I read a Sorkin interview the other day wherein the author was completely intimidated by her face to face meeting with him. Afterward, she had to use the words “jejune and vituperative” in her column in order to make herself feel better about their encounter. The poor writer’s crippling insecurities were laid bare for all to witness because of one awkward encounter with a living legend. This is what the presence of Aaron Sorkin does to people who lack confidence and self-esteem. This is why Aaron Sorkin has become a divisive presence in pop culture. As such, middling reviews of The Newsroom were to be expected.
As someone who is squarely in Sorkin’s fan-base, I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to the choir about his new project. This is an evaluation of The Newsroom by someone who unabashedly hero-worships the writing gifts of the author. I will provide a brief amount of perspective about my opinions on his previous television works and then we will discuss the pilot for The Newsroom.
The most logical comparison to The Newsroom is Sports Night since the premise is identical on the surface level. Each series is a behind the scenes exploration of the lives of employees for a nightly live televised news broadcast. The difference is of course the subject matter, with the titles leading to the obvious conclusion that Sports Night is about sports while The Newsroom is…do I really need to finish that train of thought? You read BOP. You’re smart. You know the deal.
Sports Night was a program that took some time to meld into a cohesive product. Anyone who has watched the pilot recently is aware of the stilted nature of its tone. To my mind, the show did not achieve greatness until its fifth episode, Mary Pat Shelby, and it didn’t hit its stride until the 11th episode, The Six Southern Gentlemen of Tennessee. From that moment forward, the remaining 34 episodes are near-perfect television. Given what I said above about my all-time favorite programs, this should not come as a surprise. I state with all sincerity that I attempt to re-watch the entire run of the series every couple of years. And I find something new to enjoy every time. Sports Night is what all entertainment television should aspire to be.
While Aaron Sorkin’s dismissal from The West Wing lingers in the memories of its viewers, the four seasons he wrote represent the perfect ideal of American democracy in action. For reasons that have become clear over time, the most flawed character is also its hero, an American president victimized by his driving need to prove himself the smartest man in the room. This is the personality flaw Aaron Sorkin understands better than anyone else. It is also why all of the energy his critics expend amuses me. They waste so much time when nothing they could say would ever eat at him the way that his own knowledge of his chief failing does. In the most effective way possible, Sorkin is his strongest critic.
This aspect of Aaron Sorkin’s personality was driven home a couple of years ago when he discussed the perceived failings of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It is the author’s contention that he was too angry when he wrote the series. My opinion is that he is being far too hard on himself. Studio 60 is one of my favorite programs in recent memory. In fact, when I tore a disc in my back earlier this year, I utilized some of the extended downtime to re-watch all 22 episodes. I am of the opinion that anyone who cannot find the happiness in this program is beyond joy. Is it perfect the way that the best Sports Night episodes are? Mostly no. There are a couple of glaring exceptions, though.