What Aaron Sorkin Got Right (And Wrong) in The Newsroom

How accurate was Aaron Sorkin's depiction of a cable news broadcast?

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After much buzz, Aaron Sorkin's new TV drama, The Newsroom, premiered on HBO Sunday night. This is not Sorkin's first TV show about a TV show. After portrayals of ESPN ( Sports Night) and Saturday Night Live (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Sorkin's latest show is a behind-the scenes account of a TV newsroom trying to lift itself out of the modern-day cable-TV echo chamber.While Sorkin got a large amount of input from a number of different newsrooms, the pilot episode of The Newsroom isn't always a true depiction of how life plays out in the studios of CNN or MSNBC.Jessica Stuart, a 15-year television veteran who got her start as production assistant on MSNBC's The News With Brian Williams and spent eight years working in various positions on cable and network news, assessed the accuracy of the first episode for U.S. News & World Report.[ A Survival Guide to Summer TV]The show opens with seasoned cable news anchor Will McAvoy sitting on a panel hosted by Northwestern University. The moderator presses Will to declare his political stance, calling him the "Jay Leno of News" because he doesn't bother anyone. It is clear Will doesn't want to take a side.
I believe anchors have, indeed, worked very hard to be and portray themselves as neutral and unbiased representatives of information. I think that's part of the journalistic oath—whether idealistic or not—that in journalism… you leave your opinions at the door. However, as the show indicates, and I believe we can all attest—that has changed dramatically in the last eight years of cable.Will, who becomes inspired after he believes his former flame, Mackenzie MacHale, is sitting in the audience, snaps at a student after she asks him what makes America the greatest country in the world. In a classic Sorkin monologue, filled with impassioned language and data to back up his claims, Will lets loose on why he believes America isn't great anymore. His rant about America's shortcomings sparks instant controversy and a few weeks later, returning from a vacation, Will finds that most of his staff has deserted him for a protégé's new show. To make matters worse for Will, cable station president Charlie Skinner has hired Mackenzie as his new executive producer (called EP for short), a decision Will initially protests. After a couple of heated exchanges, Skinner insists that she stays on, explaining there is a special trust between the two, despite (or because of) their personal history.
I think there is a very special trust between EPs and anchors and that chemistry is extremely important to a show's success. An anchor on set is at the mercy of the control room and the person talking in his or her ear. The executive producer has to understand the masses of information coming to them and then translate it in a way the anchor can immediately broadcast. The EP is responsible for the anchor's image. It's in their hands during live television. The anchor is actually in a vulnerable place. "[ The Top 10 Most Hated News Commentators]MacKenzie and Will aren't the only ones with a romantic backstory. Early in the episode we see that Maggie Jordan, an inexperienced assistant, and Don, Will's former EP, are also dating. Romance in the workplace is not out of the ordinary, as Stuart explains:
There were certainly and always office romances, office marriages, and romance rumors. I think because news is such a 24-hour, all encompassing industry, with work that is emotional (Hurricane Katrina) and dangerous (war zones), people in the business become isolated. It's hard to find relationships outside of the office where the partner understands what you've been through, or is accepting of the time and energy this business takes up. So, relationships can be pretty commonplace.However, Stuart doesn't believe that in a real news room, a low-level assistant would be so vocal about her affair with a superior.
I certainly don't think an executive producer dating an intern or assistant would be out in the open, though. Honestly, it would hurt her career. She would always be held to, "She moved up because she was dating the EP of the show."