While Billy Idol scored a punk-rock hit with Dancing with Myself, Aaron Sorkin did iffy at best arguing with himself, metaphorically, about the US political divide in the first season of The Newsroom. Not every solitary Sorkin undertaking pans out in social-consciousness-searing brilliance – but, like Idol, he’s still sporting a punk attitude and likes to rattle the rafters and challenge sheep mentality, to his credit.
As virtually the sole storyteller and scriptwriter for this HBO drama set in the fictional Atlantic Cable News (ACN) Network, one can only imagine the crushing network deadline and creative pressures of weekly putting words in the pricey mouths of the anchor Jeff Daniels, the network chief executive Jane Fonda and the news boss Sam Waterston – and doing one’s best not to tarnish the golden reputation he won for The West Wing and The Social Network.
“Writer’s block is like my default position,” Sorkin tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When I am able to write something – that’s when something weird is going on.”
When he isn’t doing his best work, the 52-year-old is very aware and often hardest on himself: “It’s a brutal, brutal feeling: I’m doing work that I know isn’t good. I feel like I’m letting the cast and crew down. I’m letting down HBO, people who are betting money on me, and most of all, I feel like I’m letting down the audience.”
Of the first season, James Poniewozik of Time went so far as to suggest Sorkin was just “writing one argument after another for himself to win”.
Now, with the second-season premiere of this popular all-star ensemble drama – each first-season episode averaged 7.1 million viewers in the US – one can happily report that changes are afoot to squelch the dissenters (who felt the show had slid into a quagmire of romantic triangles and quadrangles) and to chill out the “hate-watchers” (who apparently only tuned in for a “maddening” fix).
To pump up the pace, all second-season action will compress into the five crazy days leading up to Election Day 2012, and will draw upon flashbacks of real-life events of the past two years to bolster the series’ verisimilitude.
In the opener, for example, the anchor Will McAvoy (Daniels) grills a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement, ripping a strip off his protester-guest in the process. One of the season’s major story arcs will also involve a wrongful-termination lawsuit made by a staff member alleged to have doctored a report about a suspicious US drone strike.
“A tip that they get under mysterious circumstances leads to a story that spins all out of control,” says Sorkin, “and all of a sudden jeopardises the entire organisation.”
Leading ACN’s defence will be the Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock), who joins the cast in a recurring role as the litigator Rebecca Halliday.
As details about the suit’s origin and aftermath emerge, The Newsroom team will continue its quixotic mission to “do the news well” in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles as well as on- and off-camera personal entanglements.
A frequent scene-stealer on the show is Dev Patel, who portrays Neil Sampat, a nerdy blog writer and news scanner.
“I wasn’t really an avid watcher of the news or anything like that, so The Newsroom certainly gave me a respect for the news teams and the broadcasters who have massive responsibilities,” says Patel. “They shape public perception in the way they package these stories and put them out.”
At the end of the day, Sorkin has his news sense and spirit of community in an admirable place. In his world, network news strives to be so much more valuable and meaningful than all-day gossipy coverage of moms who maybe murdered their babies.
Ÿ The second-season premiere of The Newsroom will be broadcast at 10pm tomorrow on OSN First HD
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