As the seconds tick closer to 7 o’clock, the executive producer shouts, “THREE! TWO! ONE!”
(Theme song for The People’s Nightly News plays, a hybrid of mariachi music and techno, punctuated by a constantly banging gong).
“SWITCH TO CAMERA ONE, ZOOM IN ON HIS PRETTY FACE! STAY RIGHT THERE OR I’LL DONKEY PUNCH YOU!”
(A red light on top of a camera clicks pn. We pan to the Chairman, who looks serious in a white suit and bolo tie).
Good evening. To prepare for the second season of the Aaron Sorkin monstrosity “The Newsroom,” I watched reruns of the first season on HBO. Click on play to see what happened to me:
It’s tough to do a good TV show or movie about the news business, the most blue-collar of white collar professions (for the honor of working with my fellow societal misfits on nights and weekends, my starting annual salary was about $26K in big-market Los Angeles – booyah, Jim Cramer!). Reporters aren’t the most sympathetic of characters on the big or small screen. They’re portrayed as being too intrusive (sticking a microphone in kid’s face after he watched his parents murdered … you animal!), weird (or quirky and obssessive, such as the characters in “The Paper”), have poor hygiene or have no heart (or they suffer heart attacks).
They’re also not very handsome, with the notable exceptions of Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman playing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in “All the President’s Men.” For every Gray Grantham (the reporter-hero played by Denzel Washington in the movie version of “The Pelican Brief”), there’s Ed Asner as chubby, cranky Los Angeles newspaper editor Lou Grant.
My background was in print, but I really wanted to like “The Newsroom,” which debuted on HBO last year amid a fair amount of fanfare after Sorkin followed up his hit NBC series “The West Wing” with the ill-fated “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” If he managed to endear viewers to a fictional, unapologetically liberal White House starring Captain Willard from “Apocalypse Now” (Martin Sheen will always be Willard from “Apocalypse Now” to me), maybe Sorkin could make reporters sympathetic … even TV reporters.
Fools! I felt nauseous after watching the first episode. The Sorkin trademark of overwritten, sanctimonious dialogue was in full effect – and stayed that way through the entire first season. Any moral lessons about my old profession (not the oldest profession – save that for Eliot Spitzer) was lost in a tidal wave of rapid-fire sentences tumbling of the mouths of impossibly young and intelligent production assistants, interns, news readers and producers.
The show stars Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, the brilliant anchor around whom the rest of the cast revolves. I liked him as George Washington in “The Crossing” and his presence provides some understated relief among a spastic cast. The series depicts real events that happened in the recent past, and then dissects how our heroic, know-it-all “Newsroom” really got the story right while everyone else got it wrong. It’s tough to empathize with moral perfection, though. McAvoy and crew more often than not manage to stick to their guns – ratings and public opinion be damned! – and make all the morally correct decisions (thanks to the benefit of about a real year’s worth of hindsight). The lessons in journalism and modern media are actually worthwhile but painful to swallow – like a dry, flavorless steak that was left on the grill for too long.
I might describe the dialogue as being “smart,” which is elite code speak for condescending. I’ve made a living at words, and the characters’ soliloquies are exhausting to absorb – long paragraphs without interruption. You can practically see the commas and semicolons and long dashes being blasted at viewers like ball bearings from an intellectual’s suicide vest.
BREAKING NEWS, Aaron Sorkin: Nobody speaks like that.
BREAKING NEWS, Aaron Sorkin: Not many people would like anyone who speaks like that.
The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever wrote a clever review about why TLC’s tongue-in-cheek reality series “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” has achieved greater cultural relevance than Sorkin’s assault on my intellect. Just to be fair, here’s a positive review of “The Newsroom” from The Huffington Post.
This might be why I don’t often read The Huffington Post.