The first time viewers are brought into ACN's studio in the second season of "The Newsroom" – about eight minutes into Sunday's premiere – they see "News Night" executive producer MacKenzie McHale smack dab in the middle of a broadcast television nightmare.
First, a fact-checking oversight requires a the narration of a pre-taped segment be redone live on air. Mac nails it, getting her narrator, who is at dinner with his family, on the phone and coaching him to recite the adjusted language with perfect timing. Then a technical glitch causes a graphic to malfunction. Mac saves the day again, repositioning it on a screen behind her show's host, Will McAvoy.
Will, meanwhile, ignorant to the chaos in the control room, hums to the tune of Rebecca Black's viral hit "Friday" (an amusing detail from late summer 2011, when this season starts). "Good show. Seamless. Like running on auto-pilot," ACN president Charlie Skinner teases Mac, once the broadcast that teetered on the edge of disaster wraps.
The scene, albeit minor, reflects a welcome adjustment "The Newsroom" creator Aaron Sorkin has made in his approach to his promising but problematic show. This subtle shift was hinted at in the show's new opening; last season's montage of great journalists of the past has been replaced with a montage of present's daily grind: spilled coffee, BlackBerry screens, bustling commutes, keyboards and cameras.
While the first season of "The Newsroom" was an abstract, sweeping and often frustrating sermon on everything that is wrong with the news media, it appears Sorkin's second season is just going to show how the news is made – thankfully.
This is also evident in the opening and closing scenes of the episode, set 14 months in the future, with Will and Mac, respectively, speaking to a steely lawyer (who at $1,500 an hour has every right to not laugh at Will's jokes) about their misreporting that the government used nerve gas on civilians – a legal trainwreck for "News Night." The scenes introduce a presumably season long arc, where the concern is not the world around the cable news show – as was the case in the first season – but the job Will McAvoy and the gang are doing while reporting on it.
While he has departed a bit from some of its grandeur, Sorkin hasn't left all of the first season behind. Much of Sunday's episode, titled "First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers," is about the ACN staff dealing with the repercussions of Will's war on the tea party, a theme that shaped last season. His on-air comment calling the tea party "the American Taliban" has corporate consequences for ACN's parent company, not to mention the political and PR backlash that Will and "News Night" have created.
When Charlie pulls Will off a planned tribute for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it has psychological consequences as well. Not only is Will moping over joints and Van Morrison, he is holding back on pressing conservative guests gone astray – particularly a war hawk brought on the show to defend drone use – lest he feeds into perceptions of a liberal bias.
Sorkin hasn't corrected all the annoyances of the first season, but on some fronts, he has toned it down. The "News Night" staff – particularly the young bucks – is still obnoxiously prescient of what will develop into major news stories. Sloan and Jerry – a fresh face from the D.C. bureau – have started covering drone strikes. Neal has sniffed out the Occupy Wall Street movement, which at this point is just a pretty college professor and some of her colleagues meeting in a park.
And yes, there is the office romance. Mercifully, this episode unloaded one of the parts of last season's awful Don-Maggie-Jim-Lisa love quadrangle, with Don seeing a YouTube video (a silly plot device, but we'll take it) of Maggie's Season 1 finale confession – to a 'Sex and the City' tour bus, no less – that she was in love with Jim. Don breaks up with her, but with refreshingly little fanfare, and both characters are instantly more likeable now that they are no longer together.
Corrected on 7/15/2013: A previous version of this article misquoted one of the characters of “The Newsroom.”