Crashing Pilots: The Newsroom
By David Mumpower
June 28, 2012
After the entire world knew that Studio 60 was a failure, its cancellation was the logical conclusion, but NBC was contractually obligated to produce and air 22 episodes. There was a three month gap between the 16th and 17th of these shows. During that downtime, Sorkin took a contemplative approach to what happened. When The Disaster Show aired on May 24, 2007, Studio 60 had been banished to the post-sweeps week period of the schedule when summer re-runs had begun.
Rather than show any bitterness over the mercurial nature of television viewers, however, this hilarious episode built to a great truth at the end. No matter what perceived disaster has befallen the scribe, Sorkin had this epiphany. “It still beats digging a hole for a living, right?” Later, he adds: “Tell me you still didn’t have the time of your life tonight.” And with this simple summary, a clarity exists that no matter what others may say of Studio 60, Aaron Sorkin loved making those 22 episodes.
The above is a statement of Sorkin as an accomplished man learning how to deal with spectacular failure. Sorkin as an auteur is on display in the pilot for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. People have forgotten by now or perhaps chosen to ignore the fact that the Studio 60 pilot is among the best ever. This 45 minute exercise in storytelling is such a triumph that every network as well as several cable entities launched a bidding war to claim Studio 60 as their own. Whether the show would have enjoyed a better fate had it wound up on a network that wasn’t in total free fall is a question we will never answer. What is undeniable, however, is that everyone who understands television threw themselves at Sorkin in the most shameless ways possible in order to acquire the program for their respective networks.
With a hallmark achievement such as the Studio 60 pilot and later an Academy Award on his resume, Sorkin suffers from unrealistic expectations these days. Even I have fallen guilty to this. As much as I want to say that The Newsroom pilot is a masterpiece from start to finish, this is not the case. To the contrary, the 75 minute episode reminds me of Sports Night a great deal in that it takes entirely too long to get going. Once the viewer suffers through the stilted first 40 minutes of the episode, the final 35 minutes is imbued with exactly the sort of verve we have grown to expect from Aaron Sorkin. Until then, there are major problems.
The Newsroom tells the story of an anchorman, but not a fun one like Ron Burgundy. To the contrary, one of the central problems with this pilot is that Jeff Daniels portrays the lead character, Will McAvoy, far too angrily. As I am sure you know from watching the trailer, the setting here is akin to Studio 60’s beginning. An accredited industry veteran is mad as Hell and he isn’t gonna take it anymore. Unlike Studio 60, the person experiencing the rage is not a tertiary character but instead the principal lead. This is problematic for the viewer.
The background is that McAvoy represents “the Jay Leno” of news anchors, a vanilla personality on camera whose anger and disinterest behind the scenes has led to a group decision to leave for another show. The fact that McAvoy does not even notice at first speaks volumes regarding his lack of awareness. Of course, that is only his second biggest problem at the moment. The first is his recent decision to come out from his shell long enough to berate a college sophomore for her jingoistic question about the greatness of America. He…doesn’t see the country as so great, a problem in the Love Thy Founders era.