BY DAVID CORBO When it comes to well produced, oft-times intelligent, edgy and entertaining television, HBO has proven itself to be a prime purveyor of fine goods. Now the cable network has teamed with Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Moneyball) to produce The Newsroom, an inside look at a cable news station’s attempt to crawl out of the ratings fray and win back its integrity by disseminating the truth and debunking the lies, a la Don Quixote. Populated with a cast that includes Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterson, Emily Mortimer and Jane Fonda the series, now in its sixth week, takes a run at the hyper-partisan, pundit-driven cable news networks that have come to define modern day broadcast journalism.
Will McAvoy (Daniels) is the popular but jaded News Night anchor at ACN, a typical ratings driven network more interested in staying current with the latest softball human interest feature than in trying to break a ‘hard news’ story. When the series opens, McAvoy is so depressingly disinterested in his work that he doesn’t even remember the names of his staff, who are consequently defecting to a rival program under the traitorous influence of his disenchanted executive producer, Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski). Network head Charlie Skinner (Waterson) conspires to right the ship by reuniting McAvoy with his former executive producer – and past lover – MacKenzie McHale (Mortimer), who has been embedded with the military in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 26 months. Skinner runs interference against the CEO (Fonda) while McHale convinces McAvoy that it’s not the ratings that count, it’s ‘honest’ news. A resurrected McAvoy rises to the challenge and News Night becomes a bona fide investigative news program.
Truth be told, the interplay of Sorkin’s characters is often ludicrously melodramatic making it hard to take them seriously at times. But Sorkin is going after larger truths than mere realism can afford. By presenting the story against the backdrop of actual current events – from the Deep Water Horizon oil spill to the Arab Spring – Sorkin manages to ramp up the adrenaline as McAvoy and his team fearlessly take on all comers, right wing or left, ratings be damned. Journalism by its nature can’t be defined as objective, but a healthy dose of skepticism is certainly within its mandate. The Newsroom is exciting because it brings that skepticism to the fore, something we don’t see often enough from the cable network news programs that jockey for our daily bandwidth.
HBO’s THE NEWSROOM AIRS SUNDAYS @ 10 PM