The Newsroom was easily the most talked-about new series of 2012. Between the hype and the alleged backlash and the real backlash, everyone seemed to have their two cents about HBO's newest original series. Yet now as we approach tonight's first-season finale, what have we learned from it all?
There will be no hand-wringing or teeth-grinding about its fate: we learned long ago that the show has been renewed for a second season. So, that's the usual burning question out of the way.
We've seen that after the short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Aaron Sorkin has returned to television with the same smarts and unique voice that distinguished the underrated Sports Night and beloved The West Wing. There are familiar touches that longtime fans have picked up on, like how both Sports Night's Dan Rydell and Newsroom's Will McAvoy delivered on-air apologies in early episodes of their respective shows, or how The Newsroom includes Sorkin's usual office romance(s). In fact, thus far, The Newsroom feels like a hybrid of Sports Night and The West Wing: it's a show about a nightly cable show, that's talking about things on a national (and sometimes international) level.
Aspiring writers can chew on Sorkin's technique, as well, with the gutsy decision to have his fictional protagonists report the real news. While certain elements are fictionalized or wholly fictional - as is necessary when one inserts characters that don't exist into events that did - it's a bold step when it would have been much easier to make the whole thing up and just drop a few pop-culture references here and there. But instead, The Newsroom always takes place in the recent past, which has given the audience a chance to look back on big headlines like the BP oil spill, the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, and the manhunt for Osama bin Laden.
The Newsroom has given us a chance to appreciate on a weekly basis fairly known names like Sam Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Jane Fonda in her recurring guest role. Yet as with many Sorkin series, we've also had the chance to discover relatively unknown talent, actors like Thomas Sadoski, John Gallagher Jr. (who appeared in an episode of The West Wing some time ago), and Alison Pill. Here are "theatre people," as they've been called more than once, who can take in Sorkin's manic dialogue and spit it back out with ease, who are sure to become known to us the way that the likes of Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Bradley Whitford, and Allison Janney did before them.
But perhaps the most important thing The Newsroom has provided us is what it has generated off-camera: a discussion on a fictional show about the media and how the media reacts to that series. When the show first premiered, there was plenty of hype because of Sorkin's award-winning pedigree, and initially a fair amount of praise. Then, once The Newsroom began to air and proved it was unafraid to show the media in both a positive and a negative light, the tide quickly began to turn. Critics started using words like "unrealistic" and "sexist" and reported that Sorkin had fired the whole writing staff. Entertainment Weekly took a particular swipe at the show in its August 10 issue, calling it a "loser!" and saying it made even Sorkin's "most ardent" fans want "to reach for the NoDoz."
With confidence and panache, the folks of The Newsroom stood up for their show. Aaron Sorkin defended the program numerous times and star Daniels wasn't afraid to tell TV critics he doesn't read them anyway. It was a display of toughness in this day and age of creative teams who are often overly polite, avoiding confrontation, wary of bad press. Whether they were too tough, or their critics too thin-skinned, or both, you have to admire that they started the debate. How should members of the media evaluate shows about the media? Can they do so impartially? Where's the line between dramatic license and too far dramatic? Do we need to hold our news media to a higher standard? All of these questions were brought up over the last ten weeks because of The Newsroom.
Whether you love the show or can't stand it, think it's right or that it's got it all wrong, The Newsroom is both a cracking piece of dramatic television and a platform for discussion of everything from modern news reporting to entertainment criticism. It's art with a purpose, intended or not.
When The Newsroom returns for season two, it will probably still be as controversial, cantankerous and thought-provoking as ever, and that's how it should be.
The Newsroom's season finale airs tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit my Starpulse writer page and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.