Mad as hell . . . and lov­ing it

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - EGuide Television - TIM MARTAIN

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?

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