As Seen on TV

Perhaps this summer’s most talked about TV show centers on the world of broadcast news. My wife (a news anchor) and I always get excited about any show or movie about “the biz”. But if you really want to learn about television news, it’s important that you not believe everything you see on TV (or read in a blog).

The Newsroom is a new, weekly HBO series from Aaron Sorkin, the guy who created The West Wing and wrote A Few Good Men, The Social Network and Moneyball. First off, if you don’t like Sorkin’s signature style, you will NOT like The Newsroom. It’s essentially West Wing in a newsroom: everyone speaks at a mile-a-minute pace, everyone has a witty comeback (and a witty comeback to other witty comebacks), and every episode you will sit through about 3 or 4 speeches that range from “inspiring” to “tediously condescending”. I was a fan of West Wing‘s first few seasons, but after awhile I kind of wanted that show to ease up on the preachiness and introduce characters that talked like normal people. After two episodes, I’m getting a similar vibe with The Newsroom. Some of it is really funny and engaging, while other parts are predictably glib and pretentious. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and what do I know about crafting a successful TV drama?

But… I do have 13 years of experience in TV news, and feel somewhat qualified to judge the show’s authenticity. Obviously, there is a big difference between what I currently do (covering “human interest” news on a local morning show) and what the show depicts (a national news show reminiscent of Anderson Cooper 360). But, our worlds are not that disparate. Most people working on national newscasts spent years working in local TV. I have worked with numerous people that have gone on to the CNNs and MSNBCs of the world. Essentially, it’s a lot of the same people playing with bigger budgets and speaking to a bigger audience. So, how does The Newsroom stack up- is it a realistic depiction of a TV newsroom?

Well, it’s a TV drama. I suspect that The Newsroom is about as realistic as The West Wing. When the characters talk about ratings and demographics, that feels pretty legit. But when the show gets into the finer points of news gathering and show-building, it can get laugh-out-loud ridiculous. I won’t spoil anything for you, but the first episode (which focuses on the 2010 BP oil spill) features a producer getting two major news tips from his sister and an old college roommate. Complete nonsense. And there are plenty of other conversations and events that would simply not happen in a professional TV newsroom. I guess they make for good drama.

But look, I can’t kill Aaron Sorkin over this stuff. Whenever you make a movie or TV show about anything or anybody, dramatic liberties will be taken. That’s true of classics like Network and stinkers like Life or Something Like It. All I ask is that movie “feel” real. For example, I really enjoyed (to my great surprise) the recent comedy Morning Glory. The Rose McGowan/Harrison Ford flick gave a pretty authentic representation of a struggling morning show, and the pressure that producers can face. Yeah, there were some dramatic shortcuts. But the characters and their situations felt genuine, and, most important- the movie was enjoyable.

Anyways, back to The Newsroom. I’ll keep watching as long as the storylines are good and the characters are interesting. But if I have to sit through another “nothing is as good as it used to be” speech, I’m gone. By the way, if you’re looking for a movie that accurately depicts a television newsroom, I have one word for you:

Anchorman.

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