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HBO's "The Newsroom" - about regaining the ability to function ***spoilers***


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#1 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 02:35 PM

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. - F. Scott Fitzgerald

It says more about me than it does about the new HBO series "The Newsroom" that I can say the premise and style expressed in its premier nearly moved me to tears.

I'm old and I started my working life as a newspaper reporter.

I believed and still believe that the United States isn't the greatest country in the world because of what and how it is at any given moment, but rather because most Americans believe it could be and want it to be the greatest country in the world. We want a country that continuously attempts to achieve the impossible ideals:
  • of balancing populist governance against protecting basic rights for all individuals through formal institutions run by relatively small groups of professional and amateur politicians; and
  • of a society that offers each of us equally an opportunity to be all that we can be, while protecting each of us not only against physical force from others, but against the abusive accumulation and use of government and economic power by any one or any few of us.
I shared, and still share, Edmond Burke's belief expressed in his 1787 observation to Parliament that "in the Reporters' Gallery" is "a Fourth Estate more important" to our government and society than the relatively small groups of professional and amateur politicians.

And so when a key character in Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" states that the goal is "reclaim journalism as an honorable profession” I was moved.

Never mind the need for me to suspend disbelief at a level generally reserved for science fiction or wild-car-chase-action-hero shows.

After all, this show's first episode begins far back in time for Americans to two weeks before a historical event essentially forgotten in the day-to-day discourse of most Americans - the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It then presents how the story should have been covered by the news media from the beginning by instantly creating a newsroom full of "cape crusaders."

Aaron Sorkin was the creator and/or writer of the TV series "Sports Night","The West Wing", and "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and movies "A Few Good Men", "The American President", "Charlie Wilson's War", "The Social Network", and "Moneyball". The imprint of show creator Aaron Sorkin is deep in "The Newsroom" with rapid dialog and a fast pace.

The script is tight, the direction is flawless. The principle characters, however, include two flawed heroes, one a reluctant hero played effectively by Jeff Daniels, and the other a scarred action heroine, played also effectively by Emily Mortimer. It is also populated with a number of younger actors, the most obviously winning characters in the pilot played by Alison Pill, Dev Patel, and John Gallagher Jr.

And then there is the venerable Sam Waterston bringing wit and wisdom to the always-slightly-inebriated-character cable channel president Charlie Skinner who, like me, thinks it's time to try to have somebody on television bringing news that's full of facts (because there is a difference between the facts and spin) and who as a fictional person, unlike me, is in a fictional position to do so.

Sorkin is an anathema to the American ideological far right and he didn't ingratiate himself with the American ideological far left by having his lead character calling them "losers." Which brings me back to the Fitzgerald quote.

It is obvious that today America does not have a collective "first-rate intelligence" the test for the existence of which is "the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

The premise underlying the show is that at one time we did have such a collective "first-rate intelligence," stimulated and maintained by the likes of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley, which if we only could bring back that commitment to "truth, justice, and the American Way" could be recovered. And the character in the show that expresses that goal is ...drum roll... the Brit with a dual citizenship Mackenzie MacHale played by Emily Mortimer.

In Action Comics #900 ...yeah #900 at 100 pages... Superman renounces his American citizenship saying "truth, justice and the American way- it's not enough anymore."

Aaron Sorkin's two flawed heroes would disagree. Truth, justice and the American way are all that matters and there's nothing "fair and balanced" about that.

"The West Wing" informed the broad sweep of Americans from a broadcast network. Because American culture today lacks the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time while still retaining the ability to function, "The Newsroom" can only be presented through HBO which has the slogan "It's not TV, It's HBO" and sadly only reaches 29 million homes out of the 100+ million homes with TV.

Edited by phrelin, 25 June 2012 - 02:50 PM.
typo

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#2 OFFLINE   dpeters11

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Posted 25 June 2012 - 08:45 PM

I haven't watched it yet, but definitely made sure I recorded it. I loved West Wing when he was involved with it. Looking forward to getting a chance to watch it.

#3 OFFLINE   Shades228

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 12:58 AM

If they keep up the level they did in the pilot it's going to be a good show.
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#4 OFFLINE   djlong

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 06:04 AM

I watched it last night with my wife.

Without giving any spoilers, the 'speech' a few minutes into it is something I want a transcript of.

I want it blown up poster size.

That speech *stunned* me - especially the way it was set up.

By the end of the episode, I was telling my wife that I would *gladly* pay for a premium new network like that.

#5 OFFLINE   paulman182

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 11:13 AM

Thanks for the description.

My wife and I were debating on whether to watch it or not and now I know that it is not for me.

#6 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 11:50 AM

Thanks for the description.

My wife and I were debating on whether to watch it or not and now I know that it is not for me.

It's not for everyone but don't write it off because of my description. I will say the so-called "production values" are first-quality. And according to professional TV critics beginning with the second episode there is more humor. Of course, the critics are divided in their critiques of the show.

For me, a reporter who stopped being one in 1969, the most interesting article I found on the show was CBC journalists review HBO's The Newsroom which reflects by age and journalistic focus responses I would expect, particularly when you consider their counterparts as portrayed in pilot.

For instance Leanne Hazon, producer for CBC News, offers this insight:

First of all, I laughed aloud when The Newsroom’s new executive producer (EP) MacKenzie McHale walks in with a large Louis Vuitton bag slung over each shoulder. Most producers I know don't make enough money to afford one small Louis, let alone two large ones. I don't think a journalist supposedly embedded with U.S. troops in a war zone for 26 months would suddenly start carrying one of the biggest symbols of luxury and tote it around a newsroom in which she’s trying to make an impression as the new EP.

That said, I did like the character of Jim Harper, the senior producer who comes over with MacKenzie. I loved how Jim got excited when the first alert about BP hit the wires: even though he technically wasn't employed yet, he couldn't help but start to work the phones, try to get at the story and own it for the network. I've done that a few times myself, with stories that are just breaking and that I haven't been assigned yet.

And Carole MacNeil, anchor of CBC "News Now" who concludes:

Sorkin's main target here seems to be lazy journalism, or at the very least, those who play it safe, like my fictional counterpart, Will McAvoy. Sorkin seems to be saying, forget the celebrity culture in the media. The real enemy of democracy is sleepy journalism that takes what it is given without a second or deeper thought. I agree with that concept. So now we have a news anchor that went from being someone who was successful because he didn't "bother anyone" to an aggressive inquisitor who's in their face (like Jeremy Paxman, the BBC's Newsnight perhaps?). But now that he's "fixed" the newsroom, where will the plot take us next? Who will he turn his news hounds on to, now that they have their fire back? Then we'll see where Sorkin is really going with his Newsroom. I'll check out the next episode for sure just to see.

These CBC folks are Canadian, of course. So the financial stakes as viewed by the bean counters at Comcast-and-GE-owned NBCU create a different set of pressures. And viewers in Canada have different expectations and fewer choices.

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#7 OFFLINE   Maruuk

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 06:44 PM

Can't wait til they get around to "Citizens United"!

Great show, one which every news exec in America needs to avoid like the plague lest they die of shame.

Every time I watch NBC Nightly "News" I take great note of the real news which they DON'T include. Noting network news' exclusions is far more telling than noting what they do prattle on about. Americans are getting dumber because their news is getting so sanitized and de-contented to sell Cialis every 7 minutes that by the time it gets to them it's unrecognizable as the truth.

#8 OFFLINE   Sixto

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:36 PM

Just watched. Seems pretty good. It's got me hooked for now.
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#9 OFFLINE   James Long

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 07:52 PM

After all, this show's first episode begins far back in time for Americans to two weeks before a historical event essentially forgotten in the day-to-day discourse of most Americans - the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. It then presents how the story should have been covered by the news media from the beginning by instantly creating a newsroom full of "cape crusaders."

Hindsight is 20/20, or in this case, 2010. Very few can spot the true story when something is just hitting the wires ... it takes a team of superheroes to get it right.

In today's media so much of it is reported directly ... and major media has learned not to ignore YouTube and bloggers breaking the news. Waiting for wire sources is giving the other guys a chance to be "first". (Of course first is not always right.)

The good news for our hero is after his rant and "vacation" there might have been interest in his show to see what he would say the first night back ... so someone might have been watching and noticed how good the show was.

As for Sorkin, it is a good show. It is a shame that it is on HBO instead of a network because it limits the audience and doesn't hold Sorkin to broadcast standards. I believe he could get his point across without the coarse language. He did well with The West Wing and Studio 60 and met broadcast standards ... all this "keeping it real" crap is just that - a good writer doesn't need to lace his work with profanity to get an emotion across. A good writer knows better words. It seems like pandering to even include such language (it is on HBO, we MUST swear!).

As for the politics ... I expect that out of a Sorkin show. He writes what he knows. I don't have to agree with the politics to admire the way they are expressed. Hopefully the show will stay focused on character and not turn into the issue of the week.

#10 OFFLINE   SPACEMAKER

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 09:22 PM

I liked it. His speech about America was perfect. I am interested to see where this goes.

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#11 OFFLINE   Maruuk

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 10:59 PM

Real people use real language. I find it an enormous relief that Sorkin isn't held to fake network language here sanitized for 8 year olds and trolled by advertiser-terrorized suits. Adult shows require adult language. Although he's toned it way down to about 10% of what's really said. Still, it helps add reality.

#12 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 11:04 PM

Along with providing the script of "the speech" Aaron Sorkin gives a brief but effective lesson on setting up a scene for such an effective monolog in a GQ article How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin. Having seen it performed, it seems every bit as effective reading it.

And surprisingly he addresses the coarse language issue at one point: "The use of inappropriate language has a purpose—the filter's off." That to me means he thinks about its context. I understand that some may not like it, but I've been in a newsroom after being up 20 hours. We weren't very charming.

"In a hundred years there'll be a whole new set of people."
"Always poke the bears. They sleep too much for their own good."

"If you're good enough, they'll talk about you." - Tom Harmon
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#13 OFFLINE   James Long

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 02:00 AM

And surprisingly he addresses the coarse language issue at one point: "The use of inappropriate language has a purpose—the filter's off." That to me means he thinks about its context. I understand that some may not like it, but I've been in a newsroom after being up 20 hours. We weren't very charming.

It makes it tougher to sell the show to my wife ... then again she probably would reject the show for her own viewing over the attitude regardless of the language. The language pushes it into the "I wish you wouldn't watch that" category where if she sees it I don't see her for the rest of the night.

There is a reason why the language is called "inappropriate" ... although such language can be "appropriate" as long as it doesn't become the base of the script. For example, the show "Veep" edited for broadcast might end up silent for minutes at a time (or sound like an EAS test if profanity was beeped). Keep the expletives fleeting.

#14 OFFLINE   Maruuk

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 02:58 AM

Actually the pilot had very few blue words, certainly compared to any other HBO series!

#15 OFFLINE   James Long

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 03:18 AM

BTW: On the topic of "the greatest country in the world" ... I wonder who is greater. Every country seems to have its problems. When one makes a list of all of the country's failings and where else in the world it is better in each category one can find some problem in that country that balances it out.

One of the things that makes the US the greatest country is that one can say we're not and be able to stay in the country without being jailed or shot. We are also a country that others in the world aspire to come to even when they do not have roots here.

Considering ourselves the greatest country in the world doesn't mean we rest on our laurels and give up on our problems. The rebuttal speech later in the show expresses that. We strive to be better. Forward is a good direction.

#16 OFFLINE   Rnrboy

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 07:05 AM

I agree with everyone here who loved the premiere, but have noticed it is getting almost universally panned. I don't get it!

#17 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 01:19 PM

I agree with everyone here who loved the premiere, but have noticed it is getting almost universally panned. I don't get it!

The press is having a hard time with the pilot. They don't know what to do with the theme of the pilot as summarized by CBC anchor Carol MacNeil:

Sorkin's main target here seems to be lazy journalism, or at the very least, those who play it safe, like my fictional counterpart, Will McAvoy. Sorkin seems to be saying, forget the celebrity culture in the media. The real enemy of democracy is sleepy journalism that takes what it is given without a second or deeper thought. I agree with that concept.

Someone my age remembers when the press competed based on reporting stories, not chit-chatting about what people not directly involved thought about it. So many members of the press are taking Sorkin's criticism personally, as well they should. And the critics seem to have forgotten that even TV sitcoms such as "All In The Family" and "M*A*S*H" challenged the American conventional wisdom, something that is good for us.

It makes it tougher to sell the show to my wife ... then again she probably would reject the show for her own viewing over the attitude regardless of the language. The language pushes it into the "I wish you wouldn't watch that" category where if she sees it I don't see her for the rest of the night.

There is a reason why the language is called "inappropriate" ... although such language can be "appropriate" as long as it doesn't become the base of the script. For example, the show "Veep" edited for broadcast might end up silent for minutes at a time (or sound like an EAS test if profanity was beeped). Keep the expletives fleeting.

I agree. It's all about context. We dropped "Veep" from our recording list after the second episode.

It's not only language that irks us. We don't like gratuitous violence or sex on any show. It's tough to write a show about war if one can't portray soldiers and situations as they are in real life, however. So it is all about context.

BTW: On the topic of "the greatest country in the world" ... I wonder who is greater. Every country seems to have its problems. When one makes a list of all of the country's failings and where else in the world it is better in each category one can find some problem in that country that balances it out.

One of the things that makes the US the greatest country is that one can say we're not and be able to stay in the country without being jailed or shot. We are also a country that others in the world aspire to come to even when they do not have roots here.

Considering ourselves the greatest country in the world doesn't mean we rest on our laurels and give up on our problems. The rebuttal speech later in the show expresses that. We strive to be better. Forward is a good direction.

Ironically, I think the "Be all we can be" slogan used by the Army in recruiting is an appropriate slogan for America. That's a goal that can never be completely achieved by a nation consisting of millions of disparate communities of people. But it's a continuing effort worth doing.

"In a hundred years there'll be a whole new set of people."
"Always poke the bears. They sleep too much for their own good."

"If you're good enough, they'll talk about you." - Tom Harmon
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#18 OFFLINE   Maruuk

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 01:42 PM

Exactly, Europe has a lot more homogeneity and cultural commonality which makes life waaaaaay easier. American news has to somehow make all these warring, intensely polarized clans happy with what they're reporting, and too often they just punt and bring us the lowest common denominator.

I'm with John Edwards: there really are two Americas, with 2 different news realities. And they will never get along. Let's get back to the Mason-Dixon line with no slavery. Then one side can have Rupert Murdoch spew lies and fairy stories about Creationism at them all day long, and the other side can get back to actual journalism, and we can be happy again and maybe trade a little. But not that much.

You know uber-lib Sorkin would LOVE to open up that can of worms, but of course, he'd never get away with it!

#19 OFFLINE   Maruuk

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 01:52 PM

Veep is an incredibly mean-spirited and unpleasant show. Like Sorkin but on the brown acid. Julia is pretty hard on the eyes and her ugly speech only adds to the creepiness. I get that it's a dark cynical comedy and all, but I get no eye candy, and the extreme snarkfest is only occasionally clever and worth a chuckle. Post Seinfeld, I can't really use JLD. Yuck.

Edited by Maruuk, 27 June 2012 - 02:02 PM.


#20 OFFLINE   djlong

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Posted 28 June 2012 - 07:36 AM

One of the things that makes the US the greatest country is that one can say we're not and be able to stay in the country without being jailed or shot. We are also a country that others in the world aspire to come to even when they do not have roots here.


As the guy making the speech said - "Freedom? Other countries have freedom.."

I don't even have to go far to prove it. 3 hours north of my house there's another country that has that kind of freedom.




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