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Anchoring the News

Jeff Daniels stars in the newest Aaron Sorkin show, “The Newsroom,” on HBO, a behind-the-scenes look at today's media world.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Jeff Daniels-The Newsroom, July/August 2012

“America is NOT the greatest country in the world,” news commentator Will McAvoy barks, in answer to a seemingly simple question from a student during a college forum: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

Up to that moment, McAvoy had been diffident, jokey and noncommittal, living up to a forum moderator’s description as the “Jay Leno of news anchors. You’re popular because you don’t bother anyone.”

But in an instant, McAvoy’s world changes.

Played by Jeff Daniels in the new HBO series, “The Newsroom,” McAvoy’s vitriolic diatribe (about the decline of the country’s standing in most relevant world-rankings) becomes a YouTube sensation—and that moment unleashes something life-changing in McAvoy. He’s never previously voiced strong opinions publicly: about politics, the media and the alternately synergistic and cannibalistic relationship between the two. When he does, he finds himself at the center of a firestorm because he finally felt compelled to “speak truth to stupid.”

That opening crisis becomes the pivot point in “The Newsroom,” written by Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar as screenwriter of The Social Network (about Facebook), and multiple Emmy Awards as the creator of “The West Wing,” the long-running series that took an inside look at White House politics.

Politics—in the broadest sense—can’t help but also be at the center of “The Newsroom.” And it’s a given: “The Newsroom” will raise hackles, which is, after all, Sorkin’s trademark.

“When this airs, the guy who’s sitting in his Barcalounger watching is either going to go, ‘Hell, yeah!’—or he’ll throw his beer at the TV screen,” Daniels says. “There will be a reaction. This one is heading for the water cooler.”

But then, that’s what Sorkin does: He forces viewers to think, creating controversy in the process.

“TV is something we use as background music, or for company,” Sorkin notes. “But the stuff I write doesn’t work well if you use it as that. The audience that comes to HBO knows they need to pay attention.”

That’s why HBO began courting Sorkin, even before he had the idea for the series, says Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming.

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