Jan 9, 2014

[TV] The Newsroom: Season 1

Over the holiday break, I decided to finally sit down and watch The Newsroom after all the good press it had gotten in the past year or so. Yes, I'm aware that the second season of this show is already over and I'm a little late to the game. But hey, one can watching only so much television at once, right? If I could watch TV shows and movies for a living, I'd so go there.

You'd think that with the premise behind The Newsroom that I would have gotten into the show sooner. I guess I put up a little resistance at first for no truly rational reason - something like not watching to fall into the HBO trap right off the bat. But the extra free time over the holidays meant that I was out of excuses.

The show is certainly an interesting look at the role of media in terms of current events. As much as we'd like to think that it should be a simple process of tracking down news stories and reporting them to the public, there's definitely been a shift in the way the news is handled and how the various networks factor in audience views and the overall entertainment value in terms of how they put their news broadcasts together. That that changes the entire flow of national discourse on major issues more than you realize.

Synopsis: The Newsroom is a US political drama series created by Aaron Sorkin, famous for creating shows like The West Wing and the movie The Social Network. The show received a number of awards nominations for its first season including a win for Most Exciting New Series at the 2012 Critics' Choice Awards.

The show is set behind the scenes of the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN), a pay TV news channel. Their prime time news program, News Night, is anchored by Will Duncan (Jeff Daniels) and things are set to change when his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) becomes the executive producer for the show. Beyond their history MacKenzie also has a plan to change the way they report the news on News Night - by focusing on factual, no-holds barred reporting that gives more emphasis on important issues as opposed to popular ones.

Naturally this approach has mixed results. There are those critics who laud this somewhat more impartial and less sensationalist approach to news reporting. However the network executives aren't too happy with the drop in viewing figures and Will's propensity to attack notable Tea Party leaders who also support the network's interests in government. Thus there's another power struggle behind the scenes involving Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson), ACN news division president and Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), CEO of Atlantis World Media, the company that owns ACN.

I can understand why the way the show started received initial criticism. As much as they wanted the show to be about the need for a new way to approach the news and to avoid over-hyping stories of lesser importance, it was a weird note to start the whole series with the coverage of the Deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a story that was arguably one of the most covered stories at the time.

But over the time the show does manage to find its voice and better defines itself once Will goes after the Tea Party - and this given the fact that he's an out and proud Republican. I like the fact that they decided to address things in this manner since it would have been playing to Republican expectations to have Will be portrayed as a liberal. And the running gag that he is thus perceived to be a liberal because of the way he reports the news does make for an interesting conversation piece in the show.

The show shines when it focuses on how the fictional ACN news team would have covered various popular news events in recent years. Thus we get to reexamine the media coverage of stories like the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the revolt in Egypt, and the capture of Osama bin Laden. And of course there's the inherent criticism of pursuing stories like the Casey Anthony trial and the Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal.

What I could have used less of were the romantic entanglements. So yes, I can understand the inherent design in tagging MacKenzie as a former love interest for Will and thus a source for tension. But at the same time, did we really need for senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) to develop feelings for Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) despite her on-going relationship with outgoing executive producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski). And for someone who was leaving the show as of the first episode, why does Don have to continually be involved in the production of News Night? Was all this just for more drama?

On the whole, The Newsroom is still a pretty smart show that remains on point in terms of addressing certain issues with "modern" news reporting. I stay for that part of the drama but sort of tune out when we're back to the Jim-Maggie-Don love triangle. This is not supposed to be The Office after all. Still, the show deserves a great 4 moments that Dev Patel is abused as a source for random information out of a possible 5.

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