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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

(continued from page 1)

“When I first got this job, [HBO copresident] Richard Plepler and I were talking about writers we loved, and Aaron’s name was at the top of the list,” Lombardo says. “So we went to lunch with him—this is three or four years ago—and said, ‘We love you and your writing and we want you to think about what we might do together.’ ”

They continued to check in with him as he worked on films such as The Social Network and Moneyball. “Then we got a call that he’d written a script,” Lombardo continues. “And we knew from the first draft that we wanted to do it.

“There are writers—and then there’s Aaron Sorkin. There’s nobody who can weave a story and write dialogue like Aaron at his best. And I believe this is Aaron at his best.”

Though he’d just won an Oscar for The Social Network, Sorkin, who became a playwright (A Few Good Men) after struggling as an actor, was eager to get back to television.

“The schedule is ferocious, but I love series TV,” Sorkin says. “You get to tell a different kind of story. A season of shows is like the chapters in a book. Each season is like a book in a series.”

Over the course of the first season’s 10 episodes, McAvoy’s show, “News Night,” will change from innocuous to confrontational, as McAvoy—goaded by his new producer (and former girlfriend)—makes the decision to be blunt, rather than filtering himself. McAvoy’s transformation from someone who has strenuously avoided controversy to someone who
unleashes it causes a panic among the network’s executives, particularly its bottom-line-obsessed owner, played by Jane Fonda (perhaps channeling ex-husband Ted Turner).

In focusing on the cable news world, Sorkin has plenty of fodder, particularly about partisan divisiveness and the media as enabler, rather than explainer or debunker, of political lies and half-truths. But that’s not Sorkin’s only focus.

Rather, he says, the show’s plot will be built on the relationships in the newsroom, particularly the one-time romance between McAvoy and his new producer, MacKenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer), a triangle between McAvoy’s assistant (Alison Pill), his former producer (Thomas Sadoski) and MacKenzie’s right-hand man (John Gallagher Jr.). And that’s not to mention the professional give-and-take between McAvoy, his boss (Sam Waterston) and the network chief.

Notes Daniels, “Over the course of the series, Aaron also gets to write funny. And he’s got people in this cast who know where the jokes are.”

While Sorkin’s writing definitely is funny, it’s also both pointed and sharp-edged, as well as topical (without focusing on the headlines of the moment). Which means that “The Newsroom” is not a show that will leave viewers neutral.

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