This week, we’ve been talking a bit about The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s new show calling for a return to decent journalism on US TV. In it, there are well intentioned journalists who are supposed to be good at interrogating people to get the truth out of them.
Let it be stated for the record that although Jeff Daniels and co may seem hard-hitting to Aaron Sorkin, he clearly hasn’t seen the god-like Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight. Last night, he demolished Chloe Smith, one of the Treasury’s ministers, over a recent u-turn in policy over fuel tax duty. If you ever want to see what a proper firebrand journalist can do, this is a must-see:
Of course, Paxo has form. Possibly one of the greatest journalistic interviews in British TV history involved Jeremy Paxman interrogating the then-Home Secretary Michael Howard over certain decisions he’d made regarding prisons. It’s amazing the power of one single question and certainly Michael Howard’s reputation was never the same afterwards:
And if that’s whet your appetite, here’s a collection of great Paxman moments.
I still might not ‘get’ Arrested Development, but I understand a lot of people like it. Enough people, in fact, that there’s going to be a one-day art show in Los Angeles dedicated to the programme. It looks pretty good, actually.
“There’s Always Money In The Banana Stand” will run for one day only on June 29th and will run from 7-10pm.
Aaron Sorkin isn’t the first person to come up with the idea of a television newsroom as a great way to look at politics. Back in the Channel 4 had Drop The Dead Donkey, a topical sitcom written the same week as it aired, that introduced the world to Haydn Gwynne, Stephen Tompkinson and Neil Pearson. Here’s the pilot episode, with its weirdly different theme tune.
Drop The Dead Donkey ran between 1990 and 1998 (go buy it on DVD), inspiring along the way the Swedish show Döda danskar räknas inte (Dead Danes Don’t Count). But over in Canada, Ken Finkleman, the man behind Good Dog, was developing a show that, like Drop The Dead Donkey, featured a TV producer called George. Called The Newsroom, it crossed Drop The Dead Donkey with The Larry Sanders Show.
The Newsroom was a surprisingly successful show by Canadian standards, running from 1996-97… and 2003-4… and 2004-5, as well as having a two-hour TV movie Escape from the Newsroom air in 2002. It featured cameos from famous Canadians, including David Cronenberg, Noam Chomsky and Atom Egoyan, playing versions of themselves in newscasts. The George character also went on to appear in other shows, More Tears, Foolish Heart and Foreign Objects, as well as Good Dog and Good God.
It’s also considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest show Canada has ever produced. So it’s ironic that Sorkin chose the title The Newsroom for his new show, given the stereotype of how little attention the US pays to Canada and Canadian TV.
So it seems while Sorkin may not have created the first TV show set in a newsroom or even the first TV show called The Newsroom, he is, at least, one of the first to have created a semi-serious drama series about the news.
I guess it was only a matter of time before Aaron Sorkin got around to creating The Newsroom. You could probably have proved it with Venn diagrams or something.
Sorkin does, of course, love two things above all others: politics and TV shows about TV shows. On the politics side, The West Wing looked at the undeniable vital national importance of decent politics and politicians, but Sorkin also wrote the Guantanamo-tastic A Few Good Men. As far as TV shows about TV shows go, he’s had a patchier track record: Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, which looked at the vital national importance of live comedy sketch shows, was a flop, as was Sports Night, which looked at the vital national importance of TV sports shows.
So I guess it was inevitable that Sorkin would develop a TV show that incorporated into its storylines not just politics but also a TV show about politics. Thus we have The Newsroom, almost a ‘Greatest Sorkin Hits’ collection of things you’ll have seen and loved in previous Sorkin productions: politics; a TV show with behind-the-scenes relationship problems for the production team; ditzy women; failing men; witty banter; talking and walking; beautifully written, fact-heavy sermons; ethnic minority assistants; people doing the right thing; people doing jobs to the best of their abilities; and exhortions about how much better America could be if only all its citizens were well educated.
In this show, of course, we also get journalism and long speeches about how important it is. And as with much of The Newsroom, although you may have seen something similar on Studio 60 et al, here it just about works, because journalism is plausibly of vital national importance – unlike live comedy sketch shows. It’s not quite The West Wing, either in the quality of the cast, which includes Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn, Sam Waterston, Dev Patel and Jane Fonda, or in the power of its execution, but it’s certainly a pretty good start – assuming you like Sorkin.
Here’s a trailer or two and if you’re in the US, you can watch the whole of the first episode.