* HBO series looks at state of TV news
* Sorkin says show is idealistic, optimistic
By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK, June 21 U.S. television news has
become as predictably sensational as reality shows, while
journalism in general is failing democracy and its crucial role
in intelligently informing the public.
That's the message behind a reimagining of what the news
could and should be as shown in writer Aaron Sorkin's
idealistic new show, "The Newsroom," which premieres on cable
channel HBO on Sunday.
Just as Sorkin's "The West Wing" romanticized Washington
politics, "The Newsroom" finds optimism in the very industry
whose flaws it seeks to expose.
It stars Jeff Daniels as a cynical, middle-aged TV anchorman
who shoots for high ratings through pleasing stories before
teaming up with his producer ex-girlfriend, played by Emily
Mortimer. Together they shake up his nightly news show in an
attempt at "reclaiming the Fourth Estate. Reclaiming journalism
as an honorable profession."
Mortimer's character informs the young staff members in an
early episode that: "We don't do good television, we do the
news," while Daniels apologizes on air for recent wrongdoings
including miscalculating election results, hyping up terror
threats and failing to keep watch on the financial industry.
Driving home what he sees as journalism's current failures,
Sorkin uses real news events in his story lines to highlight
failings of how events were actually covered. They include
taking too long to recognize the huge environmental disaster of
the 2010 BP oil spill and exaggerating the 2010 Times Square
"Everything is hyped up to such a loud volume, because they
are not doing the news anymore, they are doing reality TV. And
they badly want to get you involved with the ongoing story of
Casey Anthony or the ongoing story of this person who was mean
to that person," Sorkin told Reuters in an interview.
News shows, he added, "have, in a lot of cases, all but
abdicated their responsibility to a democracy to inform the
The 51-year-old Emmy- and Oscar-winning writer extends his
criticism to journalism as a whole and how the quest for balance
and objectivity has meant that, at times, media outlets have
failed to point out the facts. They are, in the words of Will
McAvoy, the anchorman played by Daniels, "biased towards
McAvoy laments in one early episode that for example, if
Republicans introduced a bill saying the earth was flat,
newspapers would lead the story by saying that both major
parties could not agree on the shape of the earth.
"It was that relevant, timely, smart attack to try to look
at an industry that needs to tell the truth," Daniels said in
explaining why he took the role. "He (Sorkin) opens up a mirror
to a lot of different factions in this country."
In an opening monologue in the pilot episode that is an
homage to "Network," the 1976 movie satire on the news business,
McAvoy uncharacteristically explodes in a tirade against
America's lost standing in the world, and criticizes the
polarization of American politics as well as cable TV news.
"You can speak to your base and you can spend some time on
air ripping into it and you will make your base happy and they
will keep buying the products of the people, of the companies
who advertise with you. It's all money," Daniels said.
In Sorkin's more ideal newsroom world, Mortimer's character
promises just "the facts," while Daniels' McAvoy takes up his
new crusade to point out what he sees as hypocrisies in
Arizona's immigration law and the Tea Party movement, while
taking a potshot at Sarah Palin and other conservative critics
of the "media elite."
Sorkin, who won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for "The
Social Network," the story of Facebook, is often criticized by
U.S. conservatives. He said he knows "there are many on the
right who will quickly jump to a conclusion that this will be a
lot of Hollywood liberal hogwash. I hope they give the show a
A bigger obstacle to the show's success may be that,
according to some early reviews, it goes downhill after the
pilot episode. "If the storytelling were more confident, it
could take a breath and deliver drama, not just talking points,"
observed The New Yorker.
Sorkin said the characters, who include a chief executive
played by Jane Fonda - once married to CNN founder Ted Turner -
are not based on any real-life news figures.
"This is an idealistic, romantic, very optimistic, look at
television in general and the news in particular," he said. "I
can only write the way I write. So, there is an authorial voice
to these things."