I’ve watched for decades as movies and TV shows have tried to capture the spirit and tension of life in a big-city newsroom, Most don’t quite get it.
All the President’s Men, adapted from the best-selling book of a real-life event, was the best movie I’ve ever seen about journalism. It showed the tedium of being a journalist, along with the so-called glamour. Of course, we can’t all depose a Sitting U.S. President but the work can be very rewarding.
Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show The Newsroom, which dawns with season two on July 14, is a brave attempt to capture a CNN-like television network.
Sorkin does well at depicting the fast pace (when it is that) of the work of journalists in the process of trying to cover a big story (and,for better or worse, it seemed that in season one, The Newsroom only showed the reporters, producers and anchor pursuing Big Stories).
Sorkin might have gone a little too far at trying to humanize Jeff Daniels’ Will, the anchor whose broadcast style is slightly reminiscent of Tom Brokaw. We eventually learn a lot about his foibles — maybe too much, because these bulletins take away from the dynamic of show purportedly about life IN a newsroom. But Sorkin is a highly skillful storyteller so his journeys into Will’s private psyche are also quite entertaining.
All in all, perhaps this program is merely an updated version of Lou Grant, the CBS drama that aired in the late 1970s, coming on the heels of the success of the movie All the President’s Men (Lou Grant even starred Robert Walden as a reporter; he had played Nixon henchman Donald Segretti in the movie). In the 70s, the technology wasn’t so advanced, the stories weren’t so complicated (remember this took place BEFORE the Iranian hostage crisis turned TV news upside down, thanks to ABC’s Roone Arledge) and the cable networks had yet to flex their muscles.
Now, of course, everything has changed and the stakes are higher. There is a lot of money to be made in cable news, when it is done right, and TV has become as much of a business as any other industry.
Lou Grant was a popular show because the characters were so vivid (featuring a quasi-hippie photographer named Animal!). Outside of Jeff Daniels’ Will, the multitude of characters in The Newsroom don’t resonate with quite as much force or charisma as on Lou Grant. Perhaps that will change in season two.
Like Lou Grant, The Newsroom has succeeded because the story lines strike a chord with the viewers (and because Daniels is so terrific on the show). Journalists always want to get the bad guys — in real life, and on TV.