HBO has announced the final season of Aaron Sorkin’s journalism drama “The Newsroom” will premiere November 9 at 9pm. The hour-long Emmy-winner will be followed by the return of Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish in “The Comeback” at 10pm and sophomore comedy “Getting On” at 10:30.
The good news from the release is “The Comeback” will be airing more episodes than originally expected. At the TCAs in July, we reported Kudrow’s return would be chronicled in a six-episode limited series. While still airing as a one-off series, “The Comeback” is now scheduled for eight full episodes starting November 9.
Yet the biggest news announced by the premium cable network — and the bad news — isn’t when we’ll see the first episode of “The Newsroom,” but instead how soon the last will arrive. After a 10-episode first season and a nine-episode second season, the final year chronicling the fictional ACN news network will consist of only six episodes.
Sorkin admitted to The Hollywood Reporter he asked for a shorter season last year due to some production issues related to the structuring of his original episodes, but whether or not he asked for an abbreviated final season or was ordered to provide one is almost beside the point. “The Newsroom” is not the awards or critical juggernaut “The West Wing” was for Sorkin, but it’s been a somewhat successful program despite negative reviews from some ardent critics.
“The Newsroom” earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Drama Series in 2013, netted another for Jeff Daniels as Best Actor, and even earned the “Dumb & Dumber” star a shocking Emmy win over the heavily favored Bryan Cranston in 2013. Daniels was again nominated this year and has also received recognition from the Screen Actors Guild. Jane Fonda has earned two Emmy nominations, as well, making “The Newsroom” a regular at awards ceremonies for both of its two eligible seasons.
The ratings, however, tell a slightly different tale. Despite an increase in positive reviews for its more focused second season, viewership declined. Slightly more than 1.7 million people watched the Season 2 finale (1.9 million on the night) as opposed to the 2.3 million who tuned in for Season 1’s closer (2.8 on the night). It’s a significant drop, and “The Newsroom” isn’t a show likely to be embraced by younger audiences who can save shows with weak live turnouts (see “The Leftovers”).
Of course, HBO employed a similar strategy with another underperforming follow-up series to a highly-regarded original. David Simon’s “The Wire” was never a ratings juggernaut, but it became a cult hit and was regarded as one of the best television shows ever made by the time “Treme” was ready to roll out. Yet the New Orleans-set drama never caught on the same way, leading HBO to order a five-episode final season (its fourth) rather than the 10-episode runs it gave to the first three seasons. Simon famously described the financial offer made by HBO as a “half-loaf” — meaning about half the amount he needed to make a full season — but the writer still appreciated the effort made by President Michael Lombardo to provide a proper end to “Treme’s” narrative.
Is this what happened with “The Newsroom”? Time will tell, but for now all we know is to expect less Will McAvoy come November 9.