The Newsroom premieres on Sunday, but the reviews are already in...and they are not kind. So far, just about everyone hates the show. I mean, they really hate it.
It's funny, it seems like "The Social Network" and "Moneyball" made a lot of people forget about "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" - Sorkin's last, horrific attempt at TV. And that's what The Newsroom most resembles.
It is kinda weird that such a "genius" writer would keep wanting to do the same TV show - behind the scenes of a TV show. Yet, here we have Sorkin's third series about that very same thing.
Sure, Sports Night worked. But his only real success was the one that strayed from that formula. It was The West Wing, where the stakes are actually high. And that's what he needs. Anything less than the fate of the world on the line makes his shit sound down right silly.
I haven't seen the show yet. But in honor of the premiere, I thought I'd repost my review of the script for the pilot.
(Note: I said it was about network news, but it's actually a straight news show on a cable news channel)
A little over 3 years ago, Barack Obama was elected President of the
United States. I was watching Fox News that night and thought that
despite their tears, Obama getting elected was actually the greatest
thing that ever happened to them.
I've always been
fascinated by these guys - O'Reilly, Hannity, Limbaugh. They have to go
on TV and radio 5 days a week, and come up with stuff to scare the shit
out of people or risk being as boring as liberals are. It's really just
straight up show business. Though I'm sure they believe some of what
they say, they definitely do not believe all of it.
So combining that with the Obama/Fox thing, I wrote a spec TV pilot.
was a 1 hour dramedy about a bigger than life conservative radio host
and the inner workings of putting on a talk show every day. The catalyst
for the pilot was the election of Obama, which despite what he was
saying on his show, the main character was rooting for all along. The
tone was sorta like "Rescue Me". And it was probably the best script
that I've ever written.
My agent loved it. He sent it around town, and I got lots of meetings. I was very excited about the response.
But no one wanted to buy it.
all said the same exact thing: "if you kept the same characters, the
same dialogue, the same everything, but made it about anything OTHER
than politics, we'd buy it"
They wanted nothing to do
with a show about politics. I tried to explain to them about a little
something called "The West Wing". Didn't matter. I tried to explain that
Fox News gets better ratings than them and maybe they were onto
something, but they weren't having it. I had picked the wrong "area" to
But then Aaron Sorkin came along and he
wanted to do a show about politics. Or more specifically, a "one hour
drama about a bigger than life liberal talk show host and the inner
workings of putting a show every day".
It was my show,
but with a Keith Olbermann type instead of a Rush Limbaugh type. And
suddenly, everyone wanted to do a show about politics! Well, as long as
Aaron Sorkin was writing it.
Normally I get super
depressed about situations like this, but not in this case. Sorkin
should do that show, it's perfect for him. I didn't have the juice to
make it happen, Sorkin did. It made sense. Plus, my script opened a lot
of doors for me and led to a bunch of other things, and is still a great
sample, so it's all good. I only mildly want to kill myself, which is a
huge step up for me.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, today I got my hands on Aaron Sorkin's script.
I've been anticipating this ever since I heard about this "competing
project", this is a big day. And to celebrate, I think it's time to
compare my script vs. Sorkin's script. True, being one of the
competitors, I may not be the best judge. But I think I can be pretty
impartial, because I was born without feelings or a soul.
of all, I was very surprised to find that this script is not exactly
what everyone thinks it's about. The main character has Keith Olbermann
flourishes, but he is not Keith Olbermann. He is actually Brian
That's right, this isn't about an
opinion/MSNBC style show. This is about the nightly news. Yes, the
network nightly news that no one watches. Interesting choice.
main character, who I'll call Brian Williams, clashes with his new
female executive producer who he was romantically involved with in the
past. This is funny because in my script the main character clashes with
his female boss who is also his ex-wife.
some other similarities, most involve both main characters being
assholes with a heart. But really, there isn't a ton that's the same.
Despite the background of politics and news and TV and radio, they are
different shows. His is about journalism, mine is about sensationalism
and show business.
And mine is better.
the reason is that Aaron Sorkin has fallen into the same trap twice in a
row now: you can't do The West Wing and just replace the White House
with putting on a television program. You just can't. Why?
there are no greater stakes than working in the White House. If you
mess up there, the world might end. But if you mess up while doing the
news or sketch comedy, who gives a shit?
at his sketch show and his news show have brought the same energy and
passion and wild eyed optimism that his employees at the White House
brought. Well guess what? When you treat those TV gigs that seriously,
it sounds stupid. If Matthew Perry doesn't come up with the perfect joke
for the cold open, I'm pretty sure things are gonna be okay.
Here's some sample dialogue from the HBO show to demonstrate:
The Executive Producer says to Brian Williams:
"You could be doing the best newscast, not on television, but in history, and making it popular at the same time".
kind of stuff works on the West Wing, it's horribly corny when you're
rolling tape on a high speed car chase. Is Katie Couric really going for
the best newscast in history these days? I doubt it. Mostly because
there's no such thing.
I've never worked in news, but I
have written sketch comedy. And let me tell you something, the people
who work there are jaded, bitter, and self deprecating. They are not
aspiring to greatness. Well maybe they are, but they would never, ever
say it out loud.
Another problem is that it feels like
Sorkin could write this in his sleep, and he might have. You know how
The Soup does a show about everything that happened in pop culture that
week? Well, Sorkin has the ability to write a 1 hour drama about
whatever happened in the news that week. But that doesn't mean he
He clearly just crapped this out during the oil
spill in the Gulf several months ago. That's the main story in this. He
can easily do that. But it doesn't feel important enough. It isn't
crafted. It's rushed. It's standard Sorkin, but it's not special,
"Social Network" Sorkin.
Now don't get me wrong, he
does some things in this script that I will never be able to do. He is a
better writer than me and always will be. Here's an exchange that is
cheesy but awesome:
"He has no script, there's nothing on the prompter!"
"Nothing on the prompter is where this man eats"
There are flashes. But the great parts do not add up to a great whole.
But overall, the biggest problem with his pilot is:
TV news? I guess I am carrying some bias here, because I wanted it to
be about opinion shows and it wasn't and mine was. But that seems like a
huge mistake. People don't care about network TV news anymore. That era
is dead. But they do care about opinion. That's what gets ratings,
generates controversy, gets people talking, etc., and this show is
avoiding it for some reason.
As for my script, well
maybe it isn't better, but at least it takes on the meatier aspect of
these on air personalities, and it doesn't take itself so seriously. No
one on it is trying to do the best anything in history, and I'm quite
proud of that.
So HBO, you done goofed. I cannot
believe you chose Aaron Sorkin over me. But then again, I don't have any
Oscars, or Emmys, or a bunch of great credits or a track record of any
kind, so you probably did the right thing.