Friday, July 13, 2012

"Big Earlo On: 'The Newsroom'"

I never knew with children, and I know even less so with strangers.

Does Aaron Sorkin need a spanking or a hug?

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk!

Take a breath, will ya?

You know how I wrote recently that watching westerns lowers my blood pressure?  The Newsroom does the opposite.  I had to turn off the second episode in the middle, because I was starting to hyperventilate.

“I don’t understand, Doctor.  He was fine.  Then suddenly, he exploded right before my eyes!”
“Was he watching The Newsroom?”

“How did you know?”

“That’s the fourth one this week.  They really ought to put a “Health Warning” on that show.  ‘Speed kills!’  Including fast talking.”

In Sorkinland, fast talking equals genius.  I say, not always.  Will Rogers was a genius.  And he always took his time.  Chewed gum.  Twirled a rope.  And said some of the smartest things to come out of an American person’s mouth. 

“Fast” doesn’t necessarily equal genius.  “Fast” may equal frenzied.  “Fast” may equal desperate – “You don’t like that Mensa-inflected wisecrack?  There’s another one coming in two seconds.” 

“Fast” may also equal hurried.  I once read where, during the letter-writing era, a guy wrote to his friend, “Please excuse me for writing such a long letter, but I did not have time to write a shorter one.” 

You put everything down.  You don’t edit.  You ignore outside input, telling you your dialogue needs to be more comfortably paced. 

You get The Newsroom.

“Hey, I won an Oscar for The Social Network.”

“We know, Aaron.  And Newsroom has exactly the same energy.  It’s just nowhere near as good.”

Caveat Auditor – Let the audience beware.  In the Sorkin oeuvre, fast talking inevitably comes with the territory.  As does insight, at least of the “hit-and-run” variety.  And intensity.  And thinking the right thoughts, if you’re a fan of fairness, rather than winning at all costs.* 

* That’s probably why my greatest concern about The Newsroom is not, as with other reviewers its preachiness.  I’m preachy along the same lines.

It’s interesting.  The things that bothered other reviewers bothered me less.  And what bothered me the most, they didn’t mention at all.

That being, the show’s concept.

A fictionalized representation needs to feel real, to serve as an anchoring jumping off point for wherever else you want your show to go.  For me, an admitted addict to cable news programming, The Newsroom is a jarring fabrication.

Following The Newsroom’s premise, the show called News Night, which aired before this series began, was a safe and successful cable news show.  Anyone familiar with cable news can tell you there are no such thing as a safe and successful cable news show. 

Successful cable news shows are loud, contentious and polarizingly partisan.  Safe cable news shows run on CNN and are unsuccessful, consistently finishing last among their competition in the ratings. 

Fabrication Number One:  That there is or has ever been a safe and successful cable news show.  There has not.  Aaron Sorkin made that up.

Moving on…

News Night – both the earlier and what will become the revamped version – takes its structural format from NightlineNightline was not a cable news show, but rather a network news show, specifically on ABC.  Being a network news show, Nightline’s ground rules and objectives differ significantly from the ground rules and objectives of cable news. 

Fabrication Number Two:  That a show like News Night ever appeared on any cable news network, even on safe and unsuccessful CNN.  It did not.  Aaron Sorkin made that up too.

The “conceit” of the show is that the formerly safe and successful cable news show will transform itself into an issue-oriented, balanced, truth-telling cable news show, which may or may not end up being successful.  This premise cannot be tested, as no program of this nature has ever been attempted on actual cable news.  But considering the current cable news viewing environment…

Give me a break!

Summing  up…

The Newsroom is premised on the concept of a show that never existed evolving into a show that is unlikely to exist in the future.

And this is supposed to feel real?

In the two reviews I read, The Newsroom was pilloried for being smug, condescending and self-righteous.  I can see where they’re coming from.  When the most idealistic character in the show talks about “speaking truth to stupid”, I had to stop for a second and ask myself, “I watch cable news.  Does that mean I’m stupid?” 

With its relevant subject matter and a perspective I support, The Newsroom is, overall, a worthwhile undertaking.  But if they’re going to insult me in the process, there’s a good chance I’m not going to watch anymore.

A show, using as its template a cable news show that has never existed, whose idealized version is unlikely to exist in the future, and whose machine-gun rhythms send my blood pressure into “call the paramedics” territory…

Yeah, I probably won’t be watching anyway.


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; your sense of disbelief was tweaked and you did not like it. Art will fail to satisfy if you won't buy the conceit. I'm sure there will be some that love this show, you are not among them because you can't hold on to anything in the show.

Now I want to try watching it just to test your premise. Because you've twigged me to the implausibility, I'll be looking for it.


Andy said...

The great shows, to me, like The Sopranos and Mad Men, make me feel as if I'm eavesdropping on life. In a painfully self-aware fashion, this one shoves an overly earnest and self-aware faux universe in my face. Glad to hear of your less than glowing comments.

Ashley said...

Another great blogger whom you'd probably enjoy has had a few posts on The Newsroom, this being his most recent one:

He agrees with you. I think you both have an excellent point about the show not being based in reality.

Have a great day!

Johnny Walker said...

It's idealistic, but so was M*A*S*H, Cheers, SportsNight, The West Wing... Hell, show me any US TV that ISN'T idealistic, come to think of it.

Sorry, but I have a feeling I'm going to love this show... As a visitor to your fair climes, nothing saddens me more than watching American TV "news" (even network news). It's about on par with our (UK) tabloid newspapers.

Simple rule to live by: If you're not bored when you're watching the news, it's not the news.

Unknown said...

It may not be the most realistic portrayal of daily dialog among regular people, but I just love the way a Sorkin script is written! The Newsroom makes up for the realness lost by the dialog through including factual news events. This lets the audience know that we are, in fact, living in our world. It allows for a detachment of the viewer that is still very much attached. This contradiction permits us, the audience, to take on a 3rd party role while viewing the show in order to uncover our Media’s biases and the influence they posses. Sometimes, the only way to see something in its true form is to remove yourself from it, and that is exactly what Sorkin does here! Because of this, The Newsroom has portrayed a message that hits very close to home, causing debates among the highest involved in our Media to the small discussions around my office at Dish and the dinner table at home. I’m not saying the show is flawlessly written, as demonstrated by the weak episode four. However, I plan to keep up with it and already have it placed as a top priority on my DVR recording list. That being said, I have the Hopper DVR with loads of memory so, if the show continues down the path set by episode four, at least I didn’t invest precious time and recording space on it. Till then, I think we are still looking at a strong show here.