July 23, 2012

THE SKED’S PILOT + 4 REVIEW: “The Newsroom”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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We’re at the halfway point in Season 1 of THE NEWSROOM (so, yay!), and Aaron Sorkin celebrated by firing almost his entire writing staff.  (In a delightfully self-referential touch that TMI Magazine would appreciate, the only person he retained was his own ex-girlfriend.)  This would have more meaning if Sorkin hadn’t already taken sole credit for writing 9 of the 10 scripts for Season 1 (sharing the credit on #10, when he must have been busy upholding truth, justice and the American way somewhere else.)  Also, the axed writers shouldn’t feel too bad:  Sorkin has a notoriously voracious appetite for consuming writing staffs.  On The West Wing, he used them mainly as an engine to generate plot ideas that he’d then write.

So anyway, halfway home!  As Episode 5, titled “Amen,” confirmed, The Newsroom is actually 3 shows, the proportions of which vary by the week.  In no particular order, they are:

The “Let’s Put On A Show” Show:  This is Sorkin at his best, when his intrepid team of reporters has to struggle through chaos and pressure to get the news out.  A week ago, this sequence came at the end of the episode; this week it was right at the start, with the team juggling the Arab Spring uprising against Mubarak in Egypt with the protests in Wisconsin rising from the governor’s actions against teachers’ unions.  Even Maggie, getting ready to rush to the control room with a just-edited video package, called it her Broadcast News moment.

The Rom-Com-Dram Show, AKA “Women Are Such Imbeciles, But We Love Them Anyway”:  This episode took place in the days leading to Valentine’s Day, so you can imagine.  This week, it turned out that Mackenzie’s new beau, who hadn’t previously shown signs of being a sleazebag, was in fact a sleazebag, only dating her so he could get on NewsNight’s air and lay a foundation for his Congressional race (which she hadn’t even known about).  When Mackenzie was done counting on her fingers and learning Economics 101 for the first time, she showed him the door on a frigid balcony on Valentine’s Day night, and the obstacles between her and Will getting back together seem to be crumbling.  Meanwhile, when Maggie wasn’t slamming glass doors into Jim’s head (he needed 2 stitches), she was forcing him to give her hot-but-insecure roommate a much more meaningful Valentine’s Day than Jim had in mind, so that the roommate wouldn’t interfere with Maggie’s plans for a dirty (but not too dirty–they were planning a fast-filling bath) evening at the Four Seasons with Don.  This inevitably led to disaster, since Jim was too busy with the night’s show to even remember to pick the roommate up.  The only mildly interesting thing about this plotline is that Sorkin hasn’t been able to resist turning Don into a Real Newsman, which has made him less of a straw man standing in the way of Maggie and Jim’s True Love.

The “We Guard the Holy Flame of Journalism” Show:  Sorkin in pompous, paranoid mode.  “Amen” seemed at first to be blessedly free of this bloviation, but no such luck.  The evil Nina Howard, reappearing like Cruella de Ville, wasn’t just a sleazy gossip columnist who trashed Will and Mackenzie in print out of her personal pique, she wasn’t just an agent of even more evil Leona Lansing’s Batman-villainness-like plot to depose Will–no, she was corrupt!   Willing to be bought off for a $15K “silent partnership” in her new restaurant.  And Will, stalwart Will, he was willing to write her the check, just to save Mackenzie from Nina’s cruel machinations, that’s how much he loves Mackenzie.  But then Nina went One Step Too Far.  She called herself a “journalist,” and that couldn’t be tolerated.  So Will put away his checkbook and continued his 5-episode long tirade against all the cowardly, ignorant powers in the world that don’t fully appreciate his sacred task (that apparently now being more important than Mackenzie being demeaned in public).

And then there was the ending.  When a script invokes shamelessness and then does something shameless, does it compound or diminish the effect?  Early in the episode, we were cued in that Will’s guilty pleasure is crying every time he watches the movie Rudy, about the runty, determined young man who battles his way onto the Notre Dame football team but never gets to play–until, in the last game of his college career, all the real players on the team file into the coach’s office and offer up their own jerseys so that Rudy can have a chance to step out onto that field in a game.  (Spoiler Alert:  he plays.)  Well, it turns out that when NewsNight’s Egyptian stringer is taken into custody by the Army, Will himself puts up the $250K needed to buy him out of captivity.  Mackenzie finds out (and somehow she also knows he was going to pay off Nina not to write the gossip piece about her–very well-informed, is our Mackenzie), and the episode concludes with each and every member of the NewsNight staff–yes, even Don–lining up to come into Will’s office with his or her own meager check, trying to repay their local millionaire for his great act of generosity.  To which one can only say:  why did Sorkin stop there?  Wasn’t there a one-armed Army veteran who could have pawned his Congressional Medal of Honor to compensate Will?  An orphaned urchin of the streets who could have offered up her stuffed bear, the only toy her parents had left her, with the stuffing starting to spill out where the fabric had become worn and dirty?  A blind grandma willing to give up her Medicare check?  C’mon, Sorkin, you’re not even trying!

5 episodes to go…

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."