Aaron Sorkin on The Newsroom
Aaron Sorkin is so alarmed by the increasing sensationalism of network news that he decided to create a TV show about it.
“This show is romantic about the news and television it’s idealistic about the news and television” says the award-winning writer-producer speaking in New York City about his latest series The Newsroom. It’s a searing portrait not only of how mainstream broadcast television works but of a crucial time when so much of the public’s consumption of information is beginning to shift from more conventional means like television.
“That’s one of the reasons I like writing about… live television so much” says Sorkin who also created the acclaimed but short-lived drama Sports Night and the successful seven-season series The West Wing . “There’s something very romantic about (television broadcast news); it reminds us of a time when year after year there’d be a survey of who’s the most trusted man in America and it’d always be Walter Cronkite. I doubt that there’s any news anchor who could do that now — maybe ( NBC Nightly News anchor) Brian Williams could come the closest but we’re so polarized that there are people who would just say he’s part of the lamestream media part of the liberally biased media. That didn’t exist in Cronkite’s time.”
In the première episode of the series which airs Sunday June 24 on HBO Canada Jeff Daniels plays a shelled-up veteran anchor who awakens from his playing-it-safe hibernation with an explosive rant to an audience of students after being asked why America is the “best country in the world.”
After a short suspension the stoic newsman sets his sights on returning respect to the news chair — even if the network execs see his bombastic quest as a risk.
“Don Quixote is a recurring theme” says Sorkin. “They’re going to reach unrealistically high and they’re going to fall on all kinds of banana peels.”
For Sorkin The Newsroom (not to be confused with Ken Finkleman’s landmark series that debuted on CBC in 1996) marks his own attempt to return to television after his failed drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was pulled five years ago .
Not that he hasn’t been busy. He wrote the Academy Award-winning screenplay for The Social Network and then was asked to rewrite the script for last year’s baseball flick Moneyball .
Finally Sorkin began shadowing real newsrooms to better understand his subject. Notably he was at MSNBC during the outbreak of the BP oil spill in 2010 a crisis that plays out in the pilot. Every episode is wrapped around a real news event.
“I knew to establish the reality of the place I was going to have to show shards of our newscast — scenes that take place in rundown meetings where they were deciding what the show was going to be that night how they were going to handle the news that kind of thing — and I didn’t want to invent the news because then it really was going to seem like they were living in a fantasy land someplace” says Sorkin. “Obviously there’s no way of anticipating what the news was going to be when an episode that I’m writing airs and I decided to set the whole thing in the past.”
As such The Newsroom ’s storyline begins about two years ago and explores events such as Osama bin Laden’s death and the attempted assassination of U.S. politician Gabrielle Giffords. Despite his tenure embedded in real newsrooms or the similarity between his lead character and other well-known news anchors Sorkin insists on one thing:
“All of the characters are entirely invented. None of the characters are based on even a little bit or inspired by even a little bit anyone from real life.”
It seems even in Sorkin’s fictional newsroom the truth shouldn’t be sensationalized.