As I type up this week’s write-up, there’s a Veep marathon running on HBO. Watching it clarifies why I hate The Newsroom. Both shows feature an ensemble cast of flawed office workers wading their way through a tricky maze of modern politics. Yet, Veep, a half-hour comedy, features more intelligently written dialog, more subtle and fully defined characters, and situations which provide more insightful commentary on what makes us dysfunctional humans tick than any (I repeat ANY) hour of The Newsroom. I think the difference is that Veep is clearly written for a 2012 audience while Aaron Sorkin's style seems stuck in the last decade (the salad days of The West Wing).
Racing toward the finale, “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn,” ratchets up the tension between Leona Lansing and the “News Night” staff who Lansing wants to put out of business. Charlie Skinner meets with a former NSA operative ("Late for Dinner") and discovers that Leona, with her son Reese, are using a post 9/11 high tech government surveillance program called “Global Clarity” to spy on ACN staff. It’s tediously melodramatic stuff and I predict that in Part 2, someone will refer to project Global Clarity and say "follow the money" OR Sloan will ask Neal again if he thinks her ass is too big (or both).
- The major storyline flaw running through Season 1 is that IF Leona Lansing really wanted to fire Will, his low ratings should be enough. Right? Does she really need to engage in a Watergate-like consipracy through TMI to discredit him? I’ll answer that: no. Ask Keith Olbermann (who now is basically running a podcast).
- Sorkin, through his news characters, really seems to hate the Internet. I can only imagine that 15th century calligraphers reacted similarly to Gutenberg’s printing press. Certainly, the Internet is a recent challenge facing the news industry. A major theme of “The Blackout,” is how the quest for ratings has cheapened the quality of news (and pining for the “good old days”). The low ratings threatening “News Night” is the reason why Will and company agree to dumb down their show by running with low-brow content like the Casey Anthony story.
But, I’d point out that the "business" of news reporting has ALWAYS been about gathering an audience. The nickels, dimes, and quarters we put in the coin slot to pay for our daily print newspaper has NEVER equaled the costs incurred to mass produce a major publication. It’s been the advertisers who have shouldered that burden. The same can be said for television news (on free or cable TV). Yes, the Internet paradigm shift that's driving ad revenues down is a recent occurrence. However, the basic business model of advertising subsidizing the fourth estate has existed since the days of William Randolph Hurst. People like Charles Foster Kane, who are willing to lose one million dollars a year on their news outlets, exist only in Hollywood.
- IF Will McAvoy is the avatar through which Aaron Sorkin speaks in The Newsroom, then “The Blackout Part 1: Tragedy Porn” (written by Sorkin) is an interesting exercise in narcissism as Will is compared to King Lear, Don Quixote, Edward R. Murrow, AND T.E. Lawrence.
- For some reason, neither Will, Mackenzie nor Charlie see the story of Anthony Weiner, a U.S. Congressman, texting an unsolicited picture of his penis to woman and then lying about it as “news.” Really?
- This is a bit nitpikcy, but I'll include it anyway. Brenner advices Will and Mackenzie that IF they want to do low-brow type stories, they'll NEED to work with Dylan Keegan (sp?), who is the "Broadway Danny Rose" of "tabloid tragedy." But, Broadway Danny Rose was a horrible agent who NO ONE had to DEAL with. A better metaphor would have been Entourage's Ari Gold. Maybe Sorkin doesn't want to slam other HBO shows.
- When Charlie looks for “Late for Dinner” in the library, he first approaches another man. Yet that man's voice sounds NOTHING like the voice we heard over the phone last week. Sorkin jettisons all credibility for a lame joke. Also, a (rightfully) paranoid “Late for Dinner” makes Charlie surrender his cell phone lest it function like a listening device. But why doesn’t the former NSA man make Charlie empty his pockets? Couldn’t he unknowingly be carrying other surveillance devices? I’m only asking.
- A technique used by Sorkin to appear “fair” is making Will a “registered Republican” who just happens to always slams the GOP (often deservedly) or Maggie a Christian who just happens to slam other Christians (often deservedly). It's a neat (read: cheap) narrative trick that strikes me as not unlike the dentist in Seinfeld who converts to Judaism so he can tell Jewish jokes to his patients.
- Tired device: When Sloan tries to explain to Mackenzie about the importance of the debt crisis story, there's soft piano music playing in the background. So, it must be a poignant moment.
Sorkin Misogny Watch:
- I mentioned this above, but it's worth repeating. Neal wants to go undercover for a story on Internet trolling (damn that Internet!) by covertly establishing his own troll bona fides. Neal's first idea is to ask Sloan if he can publish posts about her sleeping her way to a anchor spot and having a large ass. THAT’s his first idea? Sloan is justifiably angry. But the idea that she has a “big ass” seems to have provoked her ire (and insecurities) the most. Sorkin's lack of awareness is amazing.