Former New York Post writer and soon-to-be novelist Mandy Stadtmiller outed herself as the inspiration for Nina Howard, the vengeful gossip columnist played by Hope Davis in "The Newsroom," today at Jane Pratt's xoJane.com.
Nina is "an evil version" of her, she writes, one that the show's creator Aaron Sorkin carefully explained was intended to be such the opposite of Stadtmiller that they referred to her as "Bad Mandy" in the writers' room. Stadtmiller, who used to write the Post column "About Last Night," actually went on a series of dates with Sorkin, on one of which she explained, as in episode four of the show, "I'll Try to Fix You," that she'd been assigned to write a takedown piece on one of the "Real Housewives."
Nina is not a nice person -- in a following episode, it's made clear that she sometimes extorts money from people to stop writing about them in her column. She has so far been representative of all that is evil, shallow and ethics-free about current journalism, everything that the show's protagonist Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) rails against in his quest to do the news right. She is, in other words, not a character you would ever want to hear is based on you, no matter how that is spun (and Stadtmiller makes it clear that Sorkin was forthright with her about being the inspiration for Nina while not being her).
So you'd think that the main reason for someone to confess to being such source material would be out of revenge or spite, but Stadtmiller, while stunningly conflicted and muddled over the reasons for such public sharing (the veracity of which is supported by grabs of emails and handwritten notes), isn't really out to do that. Sorkin comes across fine (or, at least, standard for him) -- Stadtmiller is much harder on herself in ways that are difficult to read. If anything, the piece comes off as a mutual warning about the hazards of dating writers.
So when I finally watched episode 4 of "The Newsroom," called "I'll Try to Fix You," and gossip columnist Nina Howard (played by Hope Davis) throws herself at Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) and tells him bitterly, "You just passed up a sure thing," and Will later complains, "I was the victim of an unwanted sexual advance," oh my God, I felt like such a fucking asshole.
I will tell you that I fully cried, totally humiliated at the wreckage of what happens when you are a scheming little manipulating starfucker such as myself. Maybe it bothered me so much because I realized how close to the character I really was.
Stadtmiller writes that she has "nothing but the utmost respect for" Sorkin "as a writer and a human being," while acknowledging that he "won't like this article. But, you know. The Internet. Besides, if someone uses me in his writing, doesn't it seem fair that I use him in my own?"
You can read the full post here.