Monday, 27 August 2012

The Good News: Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom

Without a doubt the finest achievement in television this year was the first season of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which concluded this afternoon. This series in my opinion far outweighs the stellar first season of another Sorkin creation, The West Wing. Yet I seem to be an island by having this opinion, for the critics I have the utmost respect for have almost unanimously panned the series. They think they know the tricks of all of Sorkin’s writing tics, but none of this matters to me. Yes, I have been a fan of Aaron Sorkin from the beginning, especially of his televisual endeavours. Aside from The West Wing, both Sports Night and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip were cancelled far too soon. The latter in particular copped similar scorn to The Newsroom. Why? Because Sorkin doesn’t just write to merely entertain audiences, he preaches to them. While many people have found this disconcerting, even offensive it’s not like Sorkin hasn’t done this before, whether it be to discuss the vagaries of religion, or the harmful effects of drug abuse.

With The Newsroom however Sorkin begins with a sermon in the very first scene. Protagonist Will McAvoy launches into a tirade against the notion of American exceptionalism. Some have suggested that the tone which Sorkin adopts throughout this monologue is full of a pompousity that Will has not yet earnt. This misses the point however, for although The Newsroom's themes and issues are realistic and are sometimes based in true fact, Sorkin is actually creating an alternate universe in which media commentary and journalistic discourse are seen through optimistic middle way politics. By using stories from the recent past, Sorkin has snookered himself, and he is open to justifiable criticism of intending to comment on factual events in a fictional way. The basic synopsis of The Newsroom goes to the heart of this issue.
A moderate Republican news anchor, Will McAvoy, returns from a forced vacation to find his staff have jumped ship for another show on the Atlantis Cable Network (ACN). He is forced to work with several new team members brought on board during his absence.
A ‘moderate’ newscaster of either political persuasion would never have his own news show on an American cable network. Cable network news thrives on opinion and this in turn suggests that successful cable news anchors must identify with the extreme left or right. Whilst it could be argued that Will is based upon my favourite news anchor, Olbermann has always maintained the notoriety of being both temperamental and pugnacious. In the pilot however, Sorkin goes out of his way to point out that Will achieved popularity, by having no opinions of any consequence before his rant at Northwestern. The very premise of Sorkin's central character is entirely fictional.

Instead Sorkin is doing what he always does with his writing: creative wish filfullment. He is directly challenging the audience to question why producers like Newsnight’s Mackensie McHale do not exist anymore. He is provoking discussion within the viewer so they can weigh up whether content is more important than ratings. The smart viewers or at least the Sorkin devotees like myself are aware that this is his modus oprandi.

Events like the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the capture of Osama Bin Laden are covered in reverential tones during The Newsroom's first season, in ways that once again echo The West Wing's attitude to politics, and a Hollywood movie nominated for Best Picture. What makes one piece of art better than the other? Is it that one is written by the likeable George Clooney, and the other is by the occasionally egomaniacal Sorkin? To dismiss The Newsroom because of the personality of the writer has added an unintended sense of kismet to the whole project. The loud voices of discontent that have followed The Newsroom has typified the whole point of its first season: some see the world for what it can be, others see it for what it is. To the millions disenchanted with the current political culture and/or the state of journalistic ethics, Sorkin’s fictional world of The Newsroom is a grand place to live. 

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