Though I've never worked in television news, I have been a journalist for 18 years now, so I do know a little something about how a newsroom operates.
That's why through two episodes of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO drama "The Newsroom," I've been disappointed by what I feel is a total lack of realism in the show.
I recognize that some things have to be dramatized for the sake of the show, and I'm fine with that, but I also preach in this column about the willing suspension of disbelief. And in that sense, the show has failed.
Here are some examples:
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--Coincidences/Who you know: In the first two episodes, the team gets the inside scoop on the BP gulf disaster and its Halliburton connection based solely on the fact that a guy who hasn't even started working there yet happens to have his sister and college roommate work for those companies. It's a little too convenient.
And in the very next episode, the team loses an interview with Gov. Jan Brewer because Maggie (Allison Pill) used to date Brewer's press secretary in college. It's all just a little too convenient for me.
--General incompetence: We're supposed to believe that Mac (Emily Mortimer), this brilliant producer, would make the same email mistake twice and send the reason for her breakup with Will to every employee in the company, when she's supposed to be the sharpest producer around?
Or, that three days after breaking the biggest story of the year with the oil rig fire, the show would abandon the story in favor of the immigration bill, THEN stick with that as the top story after Brewer rebuffs their interview request? And, that this crack news team would book three morons to be interviewed rather than just scrapping it? Or that Maggie wouldn't tell anyone that she used to date the press guy? Or that she would be allowed to do all the pre-interview screenings when she clearly is so biased on the topic?
But the bigger question is, why would Mac revamp a show with major changes when the staff is still transitioning. Most of the changes would take place over a period of time to allow the staff to adjust. But in Sorkin's world, they do so in a mere few hours before the show is supposed to be broadcast. That would never happen.
And Mac's "brilliant" idea that the show become like a courtroom where the nightly guest is cross-examined by Will (Jeff Daniels) betrays a fundamental principle of journalism -- bringing balance to an issue. News shows generally are supposed to try for balance by bringing in people to argue both sides of an issue. Even in the courtroom analogy, you have two opposing lawyers as well as witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense to argue for or against guilt.
"Sports Night," a Sorkin show that I loved, had some flaws in its take on TV sports news, but some of that can be chalked up to ABC interfering with the show in its first season, forcing a laugh track into the broadcast, etc. "Studio 60" may have had similar flaws, but they were easier to take because it was a show about producing a comedy series, not something as important as the nightly news.
While I love Sorkin as a writer, he does often take shortcuts dramatically to make a point, and when they are unrealistic, it's terribly distracting. As much as I loved "The West Wing," I had a very hard time getting into it thanks to the first two episodes of that series -- in which a famous TV minister can't identify what is The First Commandment just so Bartlett can make a grand entrance quoting it, and Sam dating a call girl for several episodes with no consequences once the press gets a hold of the news.
I'm hoping that just as "The West Wing" got better, "The Newsroom" will do the same.
THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: USA is taking the holiday week off, so there's some slim pickings. ABC has "Duets," "Wipeout" and "Rookie Blue" from 8-11 p.m.
The CW has "Breaking Pointe" at 8 p.m., and NBC has a new "Saving Hope" at 9 p.m.
On cable, FX airs new episodes of "Anger Management," "Wilfred," "Louie" and "Brand X With Russell Brand" from 9:30-11:30 p.m.