HBO’s The Newsroom: The Day Television Changed

This season saw a slight reboot for Aaron Sorkin’s HBO political drama series, The Newsroom. The show received mixed critical reaction on its first series; some citing it for inaccuracies, calling it self-serving television and a space for Sorkin to write arguments one after the other for himself to win. Whilst this may have been the case to some degree during the first half of the series, it gained many fans around the world as it tightened itself up and realised what sort of show it was to be.

First of all, it contains one of the most well thought out and successful casts on contemporary primetime television. Headed by the always-powerful Jeff Daniels and the exquisite Emily Mortimer, they exude all types of chemistry, from anger across the office to (quite often) unrequited love across the city. The Newsroom also brought to our attention John Gallagher, Jr. as well as reminding us quite how brilliant Alison Pill, Dev Patel and Olivia Munn really are. Topping the cast off with Thomas Sadoski, Sam Waterston and Chris Messina, many thought they couldn’t top it. Until they brought in Jane Fonda as a recurring cast member as Leona Lansing, the CEO of Atlantis World Media, the parent company of ACN. With all her sophistication and glamour, Fonda has bought some of the most incredibly tantalizing scenes of the series.

In the lead up to the two part series finale, focusing on the most recent American election, where President Obama was elected for a second term, it makes most sense to look back at the journey of this current season of one of television’s most formidable political dramas and what the stakes have been thus far. Sorkin has always been known across his writing to ensure that audiences are literally on the edge of their seats; across his television shows (Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and the films he has worked on (The Social Network, A Few Good Men, Moneyball); the consequences of what happened before takes its toll on his characters.

This season of The Newsroom has seen a change in the series, whilst the vast majority plots the storylines and characters around real news items, a tip at the start of the series has left our characters battling for their viewers, their careers and their integrity by the end of this season as they have all become embroiled in a mission codenamed Genoa. The mission was briefly touched upon at the start of the series when a guest on News Night mentions it to Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), a senior producer from ACN’s Washington bureau who brings it to MacKenzie’s (Mortimer) attention. Running alongside the series normal discussions around current and topical events is the research into this secret mission where the United State Marine Corps are alleged to have committed war crimes by using sarin gas during the war in Afghanistan. The story is based upon a real life news scandal from 1998, where CNN and TIME were both criticized for reporting dubious and unreliable stories about the use of sarin during Operation Tailwind in the Vietnam War.

Marcia Gay Harden was brought onto the show to play Rebecca Halliday, a litigator who is tasked with defending ACN in a wrongful termination suit; throughout the series we are unsure why this is taking place but by episode 7 (‘Red Team III’) we understand that Jerry Dantana was let go by ACN once it was proven that Genoa wasn’t a real mission and News Night had to retract the story. Dantana is suing ACN for systematic failure within the corporation and unfair dismissal.

‘Red Team III’ was possibly one of the best hours of scripted television to have ever happened; for so many reasons does this one particular episode deserve to be award winning. For starters, it is a huge turning point in the series; everything the characters have worked for seems to have just fallen on its face, leaving them with nothing. On top of this, we also learn and see a lot more to Rebecca Halliday, we understand why she has been in this series and what the future seems to be for News Night. Furthermore, Sorkin’s writing was so on point that small, seemingly insignificant mentions at the start of the episode pretty much bring apart the story and causes the revelation to happen. As well as this, the last five minutes see one of the best performances yet on the show; Jane Fonda’s Leona Lansing, apparently high from a night out comes to the offices of ACN and tells MacKenzie, Will (Daniels) and Charlie (Waterston) that she will not be accepting their resignations because she is proud of them. She explains that if Jerry thinks he is going to get any money, he has another thing coming. When the group tells her that they have lost viewers trust, she tells them simply, to get it back.

Here we find ourselves, a week away from the first part of the series finale and an incredible and thrilling looking promo. What can we expect from the next two episodes; I imagine a lot of self doubt from MacKenzie as she tries to get her head around the audience losing their faith in the show, Will will try on bravado but will most probably end up pissing someone off in the process and the whole ACN team will go through something they have never seen before. If Sorkin’s show has taught us anything, it is that as a team, they have to pull together and they will not let one of their own get caught in the crossfire. All they have to remember on election night is to get it right.

About the Author

Ollie Charles is the Awards Analyst for TFM.

Posted in TV