When Network Anchors Stop Being Polite ... And Start Getting Real

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, among other things, is coming out with a new HBO series called The Newsroom. What can we expect? If Sorkin's oeuvre is any indication, we can expect lots of rapid-fire dialogue delivered while people are walking purposefully down hallways, surprisingly cogent explanations of issues, and, above all, thorny moral quandaries tackled with bold truth-telling. Let's take a look at the trailer:

This looks to me to be in some ways a news media version of Sorkin's The American President and, frankly, like a news media version of most films about politicians. I wrote about this a while back: "There's usually a scene in which the candidate begins giving a speech, stops in the middle and says, 'This is ridiculous,' to the horror of his handlers and the confusion of the crowd, then tosses away his prepared remarks and speaks from the heart. And it works—everyone is captivated, and the candidate achieves success, at least temporarily." In this case, it's a network anchor who decides on an impulse to cast off the veneer and start being "real."

From the looks of it, I'm guessing Sorkin sees The Newsroom as a Network for the 21st century (with Jane Fonda taking the Ned Beatty role, which definitely has potential). The problem is that when that Paddy Chayefsky classic came out in 1976, media navel-gazing was something relatively unusual. Every new development in media wasn't accompanied by 20 books, 100 magazine articles, and 8,000,000 blog posts investigating What this New Media Landscape Says About Us. The fact that we have all that now means it would be almost impossible to duplicate the impact that "Network" had. Whatever Sorkin has to say about the media, it's a near certainty that someone has already said it, probably many times.

That said, there's nothing wrong with exploring the idea that the news is as phony as the politicians it reports on, and I'm sure Sorkin will do it with style. But I'm not expecting that we'll all have our collective minds blown.

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