November 10, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “The Newsroom”



In the end, just about everyone seemed to be ambivalent about THE NEWSROOM, and that includes its auteur and shining star, Aaron Sorkin.  The Season 2 finale felt like it could well have wrapped up the series, and reportedly Sorkin had to be talked into returning for an abbreviated (6-episode) final stanza.  Even now, he’s been giving interviews to the effect that these hours may be his last go at series television.  It’s a sad wind-up to what was, just 2 years ago, one of the most eagerly-anticipated TV projects in ages.

The Newsroom was the latest object lesson in the fact that there are no sure things, on television as in life.  On paper, its potential could hardly be bettered:  a partnership between Sorkin, whose Sports Night and The West Wing are two of the historic cornerstones of Auteur TV, with HBO, the network that practically invented the concept.  Even the setting sounded perfect:  the world of cable news, thus combining Sorkin’s two favorite subjects, politics and the media, with his trademark mix of rapid-fire, rom-com-tinged repartee and soaring rhetoric.  In practice, though, the tone was self-righteous and even smug, partly because Sorkin built the series around actual historical incidents of the recent past so he could use 20/20 hindsight to second-guess the way they were handled in real life, and the personal stories of the characters were often downright embarrassing.  (All those brilliant people who couldn’t begin to comprehend the internet!  The romantic plot turns that would have been rejected from a Katherine Heigl movie!  Six words:  Sex and the City tour bus!)

Based on its season premiere, written (of course) by Sorkin and directed by Anthony Hemingway, the final season of The Newsroom aims at a more businesslike tone.  (Sorkin brought in Paul Lieberstein, an Executive Producer of The Office–although better known for playing Toby on that show–to help showrun these last episodes.)  The opening hour was mostly centered around the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and it provided plenty of chances for Sorkin to scold networks for not acting with restraint in reporting unconfirmed rumors, and to cluck his tongue at the outrages of social media.  Mostly, though it was a lucid, well-paced return to the story of that week and how it was reported.  Although there was some pre-wedding banter between anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), and it was clear that producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) and financial reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) are still a couple, the romance aspects of the story were mercifully soft-pedaled, and there was no more than a mild reminder of the will-they-or-won’t-they (so far, they haven’t) plotline involving senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr) and associate producer Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill, rewarded for taking on the burden of Sorkin’s worst Season 1-2 inventions by having her character do a bang-up job in Boston, including briefly on the air).

Two storylines were also introduced in the course of the hour which will undoubtedly move to center stage as the rest of the season plays out:  an Edward Snowden-like leak of classified government documents to the network’s computer nerd in residence, Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), and Sloan’s realization that the company that owns the network is the target of a hostile takeover.

The pleasures of The Newsroom remain, especially when Daniels and Sam Waterston are fulminating about the glory of journalism done right and the horror of doing it wrong, and when Sorkin gathers together a room of smart people and has them ricochet dialogue off each other.  The cast is deep with first-rate talent; apart from all the regulars, Grace Gummer and Chris Messina returned in tonight’s episode (Messina, as the network president, has been promoted from show punching bag to a newly decent defender of the press), and Jane Fonda (as Messina’s mother, owner of the network) and Marcia Gay Harden are on their way back next week.  It may be, on the evidence of the premiere, that this season will be more controlled and devoted to believable narrative than earlier sessions have been.

The Newsroom, however, will always be a missed opportunity, a series that had every chance at greatness and stumbled over itself far too often.  That’s its own unfortunate headline.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."