Mad as hell . . . and loving it
HBO’s latest drama series, The Newsroom, has had a polarising effect on audiences in the US, and Australian audiences are about to have their chance to pass judgment.
Created by Aaron Sorkin, the man behind acclaimed drama series The West Wing, The Newsroom is a behindthe- scenes look at a high- rating cable news program News Night on the fictional ACN network in the US.
Anchor man Will McAvoy ( Jeff Daniels, pictured) is widely liked and respected but has a reputation for ‘‘ not bothering anyone’’, which makes for a fairly toothless newsman.
He finally bares his fangs one night while sitting on a journalism school guest panel, unleashing a vicious monologue about precisely why America is not the greatest country in the world and his vision for how it could be.
McAvoy’s rant goes viral, tarnishing his deliberately beige image, and he takes a few weeks off work to calm down.
When he returns, most of his newsroom staff have defected to another program and he has a new executive producer, MacKenzie McHale ( Emily Mortimer), who has big plans for reinventing News Night.
Her revolutionary idea is simply this: a news program that shuns sensationalism; that panders to no side of politics; that asks only the relevant questions; that is a slave to truth, not ratings.
McAvoy’s blistering speech in the opening scene of episode one bears striking similarities to that iconic ‘‘ mad as hell’’ rant from the film Network but, despite the obvious homage at its heart, it feels fresh and current and really sets the idealistic tone of the series.
It’s an intriguing concept, really: ‘‘ what if there was a news service that was truly trustworthy; one that was uncompromisingly transparent and unbiased, with no partisanship to anything but the straight facts and no signs of sensationalism?’’ Wouldn’t it be nice? Sorkin does a good job of pointing out all the places the mass media gets it wrong.
As a journalist, I found it easy to get caught up in the professional fantasy of this ideal newsroom: looking at how it might work; how it might not work; and how familiar news stories might have looked different.
But, according to many critics in the US, where the series is halfway through, this overly idealised vision of a perfect newsroom loses its sugary coating very quickly and begins to just feel saccharine and mildly intellectually offensive.
That golden era of politics and journalism that McAvoy pines for almost certainly never existed; it is just another of those mirages we tend to see through rose- tinted nostalgia.
This perfect, trustworthy, infallible news service only exists in this fictional alternative reality created by Sorkin, which is a little depressing.
One thing about The Newsroom that has proven valuable though, it has made people engage in interesting conversations about the media: what is its role? How should it operate differently?