He is jolted out of his disapproving silence only after a fresh-faced co-ed asks him to explain "in one sentence or less" what it is that makes America the greatest country in the world.
"It's NOT the greatest country in the world — not anymore," he blurts out, reducing the crowd to a horrified hush. After a blistering rant, he sums up bitterly, "We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending."
Will has had a rude awakening: The country is in a mess — polarized, misdirected and stalled — and the media share the blame.
Back in the newsroom a few weeks later, he encounters the just-hired MacKenzie. But the tensions between them (professional and sexual, each as fun for viewers to witness as the other) quickly take a backseat to a huge breaking story that day: the BP oil spill. "The Newsroom" begins in April 2010.
Setting the series in the recent past is Sorkin's way of framing actual news events to underpin his narrative while allowing a scripted drama to keep pace.
"Besides," notes Sorkin, "it's always fun when the audience knows more than the characters do. And it gives you a chance to revisit the news with 20-20 hindsight."
As Will and the "News Night" staff tease out early details of the catastrophe, a rousing debate about business, politics and the public interest is triggered in the form of Sorkin's dialogue.
Sorkin insists his mission with the show isn't pushing any single agenda.
"I'm not qualified to do that," he insists. "The characters on the show express opinions, but one opinion is expressed so it can create a point of friction with another opinion."
The 51-year-old Sorkin explains that he comes from a family of lawyers and future lawyers, where the dinner table rang with spirited debate, where "anyone who used one word when they could have used 10 wasn't trying hard enough," he says with a smile. "I love the sound of dialogue. It sounds like music to me. And I wanted to imitate that sound with my characters."
Conveniently, every character in a Sorkin script is, in his or her own way, silver-tongued, ironic and accessorized with a Mensa-worthy stash of cultural allusions: Referring to MacKenzie in an approving aside, Will cracks, "I just offered her the most humiliating contract since Antonio got a loan from Shylock. She took it. I don't know what that is, but I LIKE it!"
Sorkin describes his style as "aspirational writing. I'm less interested in the difference between good and bad, than in the difference between good and great. As with Tom Cruise in 'A Few Good Men' or Michael Douglas in 'The American President,'" he goes on, pointing to a pair of his hit films, "I like taking good guys who are getting by with charm and high IQ and who then, for whatever reason, are forced to be better. And be great."
And do it with all the right words.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.