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Sunday, August 12, 2012

I'm having trouble with The Newsroom. Dear friends of mine love the show. And yet I find it to be a pompous show about people whose jobs are not really that important.

In THE WEST WING, the characters made decisions that affected millions of people. Their struggles really mattered. In STUDIO 60, the characters made a fluffy variety show, but it was sort of funny that they took their jobs so seriously. And the show was more about the personalities, anyway; we weren't expected to root for whether one skit got on the air or not (except if a character cared about it for her own sake).

But THE NEWSROOM actually seems to be about whether the characters manage to get their sound bites on the air before, or better than, their competitors. It seems to take it for granted that I should care, as if the characters were, say, cops, or soldiers, or doctors, or firemen. I'm experiencing a failure of stakes and jeopardy here. I'm having trouble buying in.

Is it about the wonderful, fresh, witty characters, and the unique and surprising situations they get into?

Are you buying in?



Yep, you nailed it.

Aside from all of its other bad points (and there are many), I simply don't buy what the show is selling. Who cares about cable news? What happens if they don't put out a good show -- who suffers and who gains?

It's not like they're out there researching stories. They're just reporting on things that have happened, or maybe strongly questioning an interview subject. So what?

I think Sorkin believes he's presenting it as a struggle for the minds of the American public, but A) I don't buy it, and B) that's a boring, preachy and presumptive idea to base a show on.

By Blogger Xander Bennett, at 11:34 PM  

I only caught about 3 minutes of one episode where one character accidentally sent out an email to everyone in the organization which apparently proved she was cheating on another character. Still, it reminded me substantially of Sports Night, in which the stakes were similarly small. In fact, in Sports Night people would periodically point out that the show was just a sports show, and the main characters shouldn't take it so seriously. The response, inevitably, was that it mattered a lot to them, and we (the audience) were expected to accept that.

In Sports Night it worked in the sense that the characters' actions were consequently understandable. Were the characters full of themselves? Yes. Were they really sympathetic? Not the head characters, though some of the underlings were. My wife and I found the show engaging anyway, though we mainlined it on DVD, so that might have affected how easy we found it to get hooked.

I suppose to some degree the main characters being entertainment personalities makes them being full of themselves more palatable; to some degree one expects celebrities to have an exaggerated sense of their own importance. It's kind of like how one doesn't hold the (apparent) inability of actors to keep stable relationships against them -- it's not that being a selfish unreliable twit isn't bad, but since it's so common, one grades on a curve.

That's what I found with Sports Night, at least. Their reporting wasn't important, but they felt like it was life-or-death stuff, so one went with it, since it's interesting to see what (wealthy, attractive) people do under stress, even if their being stressed is, in the big picture, a mistake. I can only assume that the same principle works for The Newsroom if you find the personalities of the characters in the show interesting. My guess is that you don't find their personalities interesting, so you wouldn't really like the show even if they were army captains making life-or-death decisions in Afghanistan.

By Blogger Chris Lansdown, at 8:27 AM  

The West Wing was one of my favourite shows of all time. It's one of the few dramas that I can rewatch fairly regularly. It just seemed to get everything right. You cared about the characters, felt the stakes were great, and only once in a while did it feel too preachy. And one thing it did really well is give you truly memorable scenes.

I watch the Newsroom and enjoy it to a degree, but I have my problems with it. I'm not enamoured with any of the characters and don't care all that much about their stories. Whether Maggie finally leaves Don for Jim should not be one of the major, underlining plot points. On West Wing, it worked with Donna and Josh because it didn't start out that way and because we have no idea whether an in office romance between a boss and his assistant would have even worked. Maggie is already dating someone who is in the exact same position as Jim. Does it really matter if she started dating Jim? In other words, there are no real stakes to the relationship.

Is Will McAvoy a Republican simply so it's okay for him to start preaching left wing causes, because he really doesn't appear to agree with Republicans about anything.

And yes, it does get too preachy, the same thing that I felt really hurt Studio 60. And I agree with most of what they're preaching about.

In the last episode, what exactly was the point about having those three on the plane the entire time other than so they could tell the pilots about Bin Laden? And having the cops in the newsroom just made it seem SO contrived. Could they not figure out a way to bring some firemen into the story?

Now, I agree with the premise of the show. I think American news is pretty much a failure. I think the fact that they're corporate owned and need to worry about ratings pretty much kills any chance of them being legitimate, but Sorkin needs to make me focus more on story and characters and less on issues. The issues will come out naturally.

By Blogger Tim W., at 3:46 PM  

And yet, last night we had an episode about how real news, important news is being shunted aside for the sake of sensationalist pablum. There's an undercurrent of The Newsroom that is showing us how we are being manipulated by the news, that is itself being manipulated. I like it.

I also like the characters, who, as smart as they are, still manage to do dumb things because of their emotions. Will loves Mack, but has to punish her - thus punishing himself. Jim likes Maggie, and vice versa, but each doesn't want to commit to something because they are pushed into it by everyone around them seeing what they fail to see. Again, self-sabotage.

I've worked with people like those in the newsroom. They are smart, funny and oh so wonderfully stupid at the things we normals do with ease. I've bought in, because I recognize the people in it - but they are presented within the world of news reporting , a world I am unfamiliar.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 4:43 PM  

"one character accidentally sent out an email to everyone"... glad I missed that 1990s plotline.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:43 PM  

It's actually been growing on me quite a lot. I went in expecting it to be ridiculously self-important and pompous, so I ultimately didn't mind that.

I disagree what they are discussing is unimportant. Well, stuff about beating other networks etc is, but we live in a world with Fox News. Like it or not, the media does have a big affect on a country, and sometimes we need someone pompous to remind us of that.

The retrospective nature of Newsroom is an ingenious way to discuss how news should be done - through examples we already know.

At the end of the day that's all secondary though. Like the West Wing, it's all for naught if you don't care about the characters, and that's where Newsroom struggled to begin with. Episodes 4 and 5 showed me how good it could be. I just hope that continues.

By Blogger Swil, at 12:05 AM  

Alex Epstein said: ""one character accidentally sent out an email to everyone"... glad I missed that 1990s plotline."

Ya, that was cringe inducing. And the way it was set up you could see it coming from a mile away. Another bad moment was the scene where Maggie admitted to writing LOL in a condolences note because she thought it meant Lots of Love.

I do like some of it, though. I like that everyone, outside of the people who actually appear on the show, are real. The Koch brothers, who are a big storyline, are real people.

And I think the writing is getting better. Fewer cringe inducing moments as we get later in the series.

There's enough good stuff that I'm still watching.

By Blogger Tim W., at 6:18 PM  

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