I am on the record as saying that the Aaron Sorkin years of The West Wing represented the best written dramatic television of all time. And A Few Good Men would absolutely make my list of five movies to take with me if I were marooned on an island, or if Netflix went out of business. So given that — along with being a TV news junkie — it should come as no shock that I haven’t anticipated a new show as much as HBO’s The Newsroom in what seems like years.
In one of the early episodes, one character demands that another declare whether they are “in or out.” After seeing four episodes, I am 100% in. I just worry how many others will be.
I don’t want to ruin anything about the pilot or subsequent episodes if you haven’t seen them yet, so I will keep things in generalities. The premise is well known: it’s built around a big name news anchor and his staff.
If you miss The West Wing every day, you will wrap your arms around this new series like a dog you see on the street that looks just like your old beloved pooch that passed away a few years ago. The comparisons are many, beginning with the Sorkin-esque dialogue (a whole lot of harried monologues and — shocker — a whole lot of preaching).
And this show has an incredibly inflated sense of self. The Newsroom does not think it is about a newsroom; it thinks it is about much more than that. It fancies itself a political show (or a mechanism to save journalism — or maybe the world), as interested in debating — strike that, lecturing — about topics like gun control as breaking down how a 60-minute newscast gets made.
One could argue this is, in many ways, The West Wing set in a TV network — down to the staff of journalists toasting a newly-elected congress, a scene that looks like it was written for our beloved former White House staffers Toby Ziegler, Josh Lyman and Sam Seaborn. By the way, in my mind, none of this is necessarily a bad thing — but I know there are many who will hate it.
If you want to blow holes in The Newsroom as a television show, Sorkin offers you the sidearm and the ammunition. Like many shows early on, the characters are a bit uneven, especially the way a couple female characters handle relationship issues — they are written as pretty weak. And the storylines can get a little forgetful, as one episode talks about a new direction for the show that seemingly gets jettisoned in many ways just one episode later.
But that is not my worry for the success of the show — as much as success can be measured on a premium outlet like HBO, where shows as much as anything are often measured by buzz and renewals (well, Luck’s premature season two pickup aside).
Here’s the problem: media companies keep making shows about themselves — and no one around the country cares. Shows that focus behind the scenes of other shows don’t work on mainstream television. This show wouldn’t get made on broadcast TV, because it wouldn’t last.
The big question is, will it be enough for HBO, no matter how high the quality? And make no mistake about it — the quality of the show is significant.
Throughout the four episodes the network made available to the media — I would have watched more immediately had HBO put them in my hands — I found myself falling in and out of love with the show at times. But that could just be because it is an HBO series without nudity — which is like a newsroom with no booze.