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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 2)

But as Sorkin (who won or shared five Emmy Awards for his work on “The West Wing”) is quick to note, politics is never his first focus.

“I wouldn’t even say politics is second on the list. It’s probably fourth or fifth,” says Sorkin, 51. “I hope the success or failure of this show has nothing to do with whether people agree or disagree with the characters. This show is not hammering home one political point. But it does bring up things people disagree about. I have no political agenda. My goal isn’t to persuade or preach.”

In fact, the show is as much about McAvoy’s personal life as his work: specifically, his contentious relationship with his bosses, his ill-tempered treatment of his underlings and his involvement with his new executive producer, a former lover who shattered him a few years earlier when she walked away from their relationship. McAvoy is notoriously prickly (even though he argues loudly, “I’m AFFABLE!”). But he’s not knee-jerk about anything. “I’m a registered Republican,” the character says early on. “I only seem liberal because I happen to believe that hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage.”

As Sorkin explains: “I do like writing in a romantic, idealistic, swashbuckling style... I like workplace shows, with people in the trenches. A newsroom is a place where all kinds of stories come in over the transom.”

While Sorkin has nothing but kind words for his experiences working for ABC (“Sports Night”) and NBC (“The West Wing,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”), he acknowledges that cable offered several advantages. “Obviously, there’s the language—every once in a while, I can use language I wouldn’t have been able to use on the networks,” Sorkin says. “But the biggest creative difference is that each episode feels like a one-hour movie. It’s not broken up by commercials. And there are different things I can do, subject-wise, on HBO that I would have gotten notes from the network about.”

Notes Lombardo, “He doesn’t have to worry about being too political.”

Is there such a thing as too political for HBO? “Well, we’re the home of Bill Maher,” Lombardo says, “so I’d say we haven’t yet gotten to the outer bounds of that.”

Sorkin’s presence—and the quality of his work—is what attracted Daniels to the series, after years of resisting the notion of working in TV.

“There’s a musicality to Aaron’s writing. It’s so well-written,” says Daniels. “When I got this show, I heard from my friend Tim Busfield (who was part of the cast of Sorkin’s “The West Wing”) and he said, ‘Wait until you see the stuff you get to say.’
“You have to learn it so you can make it appear as if you’re thinking and saying these things at that moment, at 100 miles per hour. That’s the challenge. The trick is to get to the point that you’re not worried about the lines, that they’re second nature. On a lot of films I’ve done, you’ll see people memorizing that day’s lines while they’re sitting in the makeup chair. You can’t do that with Aaron’s writing.”

Because we see McAvoy on the air as well as off, Daniels found himself forced to embody job skills that were out of his comfort zone.

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