x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

When news goes prime time

Since the 1970s, TV series have turned to newsrooms to create drama and drollery. Oliver Good looks at the top 10 shows

In addition to being one of the earliest TV shows to be set in a newsroom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was unique in that focused on an unmarried, career-minded woman in her thirties - Mary Richards, the producer of the fictional Six O'Clock News. AP Photo
In addition to being one of the earliest TV shows to be set in a newsroom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was unique in that focused on an unmarried, career-minded woman in her thirties - Mary Richards, the producer of the fictional Six O'Clock News. AP Photo

Even as newsrooms around the globe are being gutted by downsizing, the world of intrepid reporters, jaded editors, tight deadlines and behind-the-scenes bust-ups is still capturing the public's imagination. That's the focus of HBO's hotly anticipated series The Newsroom, written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing). The programme, which debuts in North America on Sunday, will also be showing on OSN in the UAE in the coming weeks, although the network has yet to confirm a date. It stars Jeff Daniels as a world-weary TV news anchor, whose team attempts to put out a credible current affairs programme "in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements", according to the show's brief.

Alongside police departments and hospital wards, newsrooms have proved one of the most reliable settings for TV series since the format began. Here are 10 of the most memorable:

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77)

As well as being one of the earliest comedies to be set in the fast-paced world of TV news, The Mary Tyler Moore Show broke new ground by focusing on an unmarried, career-minded woman in her thirties - the Minneapolis Six O'Clock News producer Mary Richards. The CBS show ushered in a new era of grown-up sitcoms, spawned a host of spin-offs and even provided the basis for the recent favourite 30 Rock, according to its creator Tina Fey.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1971-75)

The protagonist Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) remains an inspiration to reporters stuck on dead-end beats everywhere. The Chicago newspaperman had a nose for the kind of crimes that even law-enforcement wouldn't pursue, including those committed by vampires, mummies and other supernatural assailants. Though not a big hit in its day, the ABC show gained a loyal following in syndication and inspired The X-Files creator Chris Carter decades later.

Hot Metal (1986-88)

A no-holds-barred spoof of British tabloids in the 1980s, the LWT programme saw Fleet Street's most humdrum newspaper transformed into a gutter-dwelling red top after a new owner comes on-board. The Crucible's litany of ludicrous scoops included exposing a village priest as a werewolf while one of the paper's cub reporters was unearthing a scandal that went right to the heart of government - not that his editor took any notice.

Murphy Brown (1988-98)

You know a TV series has captured the zeitgeist when one of its storylines becomes a hot topic in a US presidential campaign. In 1992, the Republican vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle attacked the show's protagonist - the fictional newsreader Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) - for deciding to become a single mother, thereby "ignoring the importance of fathers". The CBS series remained on air for another six years.

Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-98)

Perhaps the most cynical depiction of TV news ever created, Drop the Dead Donkey was awash with misanthropic editors and unscrupulous reporters. One foreign correspondent even buried the same tattered child's doll under rubble in every war zone he visited, to give his reports a powerful, albeit utterly artificial, sense of tragedy. Broadcast on the UK's Channel 4, the show's production schedule was revolutionary, with each episode written and filmed within the week of broadcast, to keep things topical.

Frontline (1994-97)

Inspired by Drop the Dead Donkey, the Australian network ABC-TV created its own irreverent sitcom based in the newsroom of the fictional current affairs programme, Frontline. As well as sharply satirising everything from "chequebook journalism" to the bullying tactics employed by big-name interviewers, the topical show featured an impressive line-up of guest stars playing themselves - everyone from senior Aussie politicians of the day, to the tennis champ Pat Cash.

The Newsroom (1996-02)

This sharp Canadian satire focused on the fictitious City Hour news programme and found a loyal following not just at home, but in the US too. That didn't stop HBO from plundering the name for Sorkin's series 10 years later and causing outrage north of the border. According to the Canadian magazine Maclean's, which claimed "The Newsroom is often considered the greatest show Canada has ever produced", HBO's choice of name was "a grimly amusing reminder that the US TV industry doesn't take Canada very seriously".

State of Play (2003)

The grisly death of an MP's researcher leads to a web of adultery and a terrifying Watergate-like government conspiracy, in this brilliantly tense six-hour BBC drama. In one of the most positive depictions of journalism to date, the complex mystery is exposed by a team of plucky reporters, led by Cal McCaffrey (John Simm), at the fictional London broadsheet The Herald. State of Play went on to become a surprisingly worthwhile Hollywood film in 2009, with Russell Crowe replacing Simm.

Back to You (2007-08)

Everything about this Fox sitcom seemed so promising. Huge stars Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond) are forced together as squabbling anchors on a provincial news programme, after the former is sacked for making a controversial comment while working for a major network. There was even a secret love-child storyline. But alas, the show never lived up to expectations and was cancelled after a single season.

The Hour (2011-ongoing)

It was billed as the UK's answer to Mad Men, but in addition to plenty of smoking, smart suits and sexual politics, the BBC series featured storylines about espionage and assassinations that its US counterpart would never touch. It follows the staff of the current affairs show The Hour in 1956 - a brand new format at the time - which includes a female producer (Romola Garai), an upper-class newsreader (Dominic West) and a scruffy, obsessive reporter (Ben Whishaw). All bases covered, then.

Honourable mention: Sports Night (1998-00)

More than a decade before the debut of The Newsroom, Sorkin created a comedy about a fictional sports programme, which also focused on the pressures of working in a competitive news environment. The writer was never completely happy with ABC's handling of it however, particularly the decision to include a laugh track. The show's ratings weren't high enough to earn it a third season and Sorkin instead opted to focus on his more popular drama, The West Wing.