Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Unreality Show

My latest piece for the Daily Banter is now up -- it deals with Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series, The Newsroom. The show has many of the very good hallmarks of a Sorkin production, as well as more than the usual number of very bad ones. The important thing, though, is that it tries to bring West Wing-style nobility and heroism to the world of modern TV news -- and given what we all know about TV news these days, that's a pretty comical conceit that requires a hell of a suspension of disbelief. What the NBC suits are now doing to Ann Curry proves it.

Here's the opening shot:

"Like just about anybody who’s spent a good portion of his or her career in the TV news industry, I watched Aaron Sorkin’s new show, 'The Newsroom,' on HBO a couple of nights ago. I did this because, like anybody who’s spent a good portion of his or her career in the TV news industry, I desperately seek the validation of strangers, love talking and hearing about myself and especially enjoy anything that paints the profession I chose years ago in a light other than thoroughly, hostilely negative."

Read the Rest Here

Once You're Done with the Piece, a Few Extra Thoughts on The Newsroom, in No Particular Order (Beware of Spoilers)

1. One complaint I can tell I'm going to have with it is one I always have when Sorkin writes a show with any sort of "political" content: since, as I said, every character acts as some sort of surrogate for Sorkin himself and exists mainly to preach the gospel as Sorkin sees it, they'll all be varying degrees of liberal. This isn't necessarily a problem when there are characters on-screen who openly display progressive political tendencies, but it'll be noticeable when, say, Will McAvoy claims to be a Republican. In Sorkin's world, liberalism is the only political opinion espoused openly and Republican "conservatism" is centrist and reasonable. In other words, Sorkin paints Republicans not as they are these days but how he, as someone who's liberal, believes they should be.

2. I have to imagine that at least a couple of the characters on the show are based on real people within the TV news industry -- e.g. McAvoy's personality lines up almost perfectly with that of Keith Olbermann except for the fact that McAvoy's not clinically insane -- and with that in mind I'm almost positive I know who Don Keefer, the youthful, brash, arrogant, sort of asshole-ish former EP of News Night, is supposed to be. While he certainly has the kind of attitude and view of himself that grows up out of the carpeting in most television newsrooms, there's one very well-known figure in the business who mirrors his personality and mannerisms almost flawlessly. He's a former high-powered executive producer in cable news who's now very high up the network food chain. Good guy, overall -- but especially years ago? Yeah, that was him.

3. I feel sorry for Alison Pill. I really hope her character develops into something better than it is now. That said, there actually are thousands upon thousands of kids just like "Maggie" toiling away thanklessly in TV newsrooms these days. Some are talented as hell, some are in way over their heads, but they do exist. And I very much appreciated the moment when McAvoy looked her in the face and simply acknowledged her by saying her name. I remember the first time that sort of thing happened to me, two decades ago, and the feeling of validation is something you hold onto for a very long time.

4. Loved it when Mac playfully put her foot down and let McAvoy know who's really in control while the show's on the air. The relationship between the producer or EP and the talent is always one of trust, with each side having to rely on the other and know that he or she has the best interest of the show and the other person at heart. That kind of trust is integral for the daily high-wire act that is a TV news show -- whether it's at the local or national level. But I'll never forget one of the earliest stories from my time coming up in local news. I had a story break in the middle of a show and attempted to get one of my anchors to read it live; for whatever reason, he refused to, wanting instead to wait on it a few minutes. When I tried to get his co-anchor to do it, she also refused as a show of solidarity with the guy sitting next to her on the set. I was maybe 22 years old, it was one of my first times out and I was admittedly letting them manhandle me because I was afraid of them, their popularity and their authority. So I picked up the phone and called downstairs to my EP. Her response: "I don't want to see either of them for the next two blocks. Kill any face-time they have." And so I did. We wiped between stories; went right into full reporter packages; even killed tosses to weather, instead coming right up on the segment without an intro. My EP's advice to me when I came down after the show? "They need to know at all times that you are in charge and if they forget, remind them." There's a reason it's called the control room.

5. The news consultant on the show is Nancy Bauer Gonzales, former long-time news director in Los Angeles and a truly terrific lady. She's the one who hired me at KNBC in 2000 and I actually had dinner with her and some old friends from that era a couple of weeks ago. Despite the fact that by the end of my tenure at KNBC I was hiding a nasty little drug habit, Bauer is kind enough to still look upon me pretty fondly and I couldn't be more proud of that given that I respect her very much. She's a great choice when it comes to advising on the technical aspects of working in a newsroom and covering breaking stories.

6. On that note, while it's true that a cable news outlet would have hundreds more people than just those within one small room working a big story -- even as proprietary and competitive as the individual shows can often be -- it was thrilling to watch the "breaking story" unfold in the last quarter of the show. It made me miss it. Covering breaking news is, admittedly, a thrill you never quite get out of your system.

Adding: This bit of brilliance...


VOTAR said...

Sorkin is sort of like John Doe sermons from "Se7en." He's preaching to us.

Anonymous said...

"They need to know at all times that you are in charge and if they forget, remind them." There's a reason it's called the control room."

You did kick ass in the control room.
I remember one time a sports anchor used up a little too much time and you had us fade to black on him mid sentence. Classic. Now most of the children we have producing newscasts are terrified of the talent and wouldn't dare make a move like that.

Anonymous said...

You were amazing!

Chez said...

Well, thanks for all the anonymous praise. I wish I knew who to send the checks to.

Anonymous said...

So you were lying to your employer about your addiction to and continual use of illegal drugs.

Are't you just the HIPPEST hipster ever?

So, so, so very not classy, Chez, but then that's been the style your entire life so why change now, right?

What I mean is that you show absolutely ZERO remorse for your illegal drug use and abuse, but rather hold it out there as something to be looked up to, and applauded and emulated.

Shame on you.

Chez said...

Wow, you really know what the fuck you're talking about, don't you?

Jason said...

I'm a small-time anchor and also saw some good, bad and totally unbelievable in the show. How about the fact they were all so concerned with the color of the iNews alert? An alert hits of an oil well explosion in the gulf and u don't jump on it bc it's not orange? Called bullshit on that. I personally thought of you, Chez, a little when Don was on-screen. Maybe it was how he told off Will. Who do you think he is in real life?

Chez said...

Yeah, telling off an anchor on occasion was the kind of thing I used to do -- when I felt it was warranted. Like I said, Don certainly has a lot of the traits of your average asshole news producer or EP -- and I definitely could be one of those on occasion -- but his mannerisms match a certain person who was formerly in cable news to a T, and this person is very well known. I can't and won't say in public -- sorry.

As for the color of the iNews Alert, I actually thought that was clever because while no one ever went strictly by something as obtuse as the color of an alert, it would occasionally have a subconscious impact on how you viewed a story.

Anonymous said...

darmund, you really should read his book. It's a real eye opener and good insight into just who he has become. You shouldn't comment unless you have done the research!