Aaron Sorkin is the first to admit that the fictional news organization he’s concocted for his new HBO series “The Newsroom” is so idealized that it borders on mythical.
It was Sorkin who pointed out to us in an interview how he peppered his scripts for “The Newsroom” with references to mythical places — starting with the name of the cable news company that is the focus of the show: Atlantis Cable News, owned by Atlantis World Media.
“[There are all these] sort of bread crumbs left all over the place, from the references to Don Quixote and Brigadoon and Camelot to just the name of the cable channel — Atlantis Cable News, Atlantis World Media — these lost cities,” said Sorkin, 51, when we met him recently in a conference room at HBO headquarters in New York.
His new series, “The Newsroom,” starts its 10-episode first season this Sunday night (June 24) at 10/9c on HBO. Sorkin is the TV and film writer/producer whose credits include “The West Wing” and two series that were also about television, “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” He wrote the scripts for the movies “A Few Good Men,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Moneyball” and “The Social Network” (for which he won an Academy Award).
“The Newsroom” stars Jeff Daniels as a prime-time cable news anchor who’s trying to shed his mild-mannered image as “the Jay Leno of TV news”; Emily Mortimer, who plays the hard-charging producer of his show (and former love interest); and Sam Waterston as a veteran newsman who is the cable channel’s boss.
We also asked Sorkin:
And he answered: “The engine behind this show wasn’t saying something about TV news. I like writing workplace shows with workplace families. I like writing romantically and idealistically. And those things that you described – you know, the ‘Colberts’ and ‘The Daily Shows,’ that kind of thing – even going back as far as Paddy Chayefsky and ‘Network’ – those are fantastic but cynical takes on TV news. By and large in popular culture, our leaders are portrayed either as Machiavellian or dolts. When I wrote ‘The West Wing,’ I wanted to write a group of people who were very competent and there was wish-fulfillment involved, that whether you agreed with their politics or not, you couldn’t argue that they weren’t waking up every morning wanting to do the right thing, working for us. It was a valentine to public service. And I wanted to try the same thing with news – journalism being held in at least as much contempt as government now.”
It’s your third series about television. Why do you keep returning again and again to television as a topic for TV shows?
And Sorkin answered: “Perfectly fair question. You’ll hear me use the word ‘romantic’ a lot. I’ve found live television [to be] very romantic and nostalgic. It takes us back to the roots of television. Once again, I like writing [about] workplace families that are a team and doing something together. And when you really [have] a ticking clock on the day, when it has to be done by 8 o’clock [as in "The Newsroom"], that puts everyone in a trench together. The stakes are very high. And of course, television plays an enormous role in our lives. We have our families, we have our friends, and then television is the other character [in our lives]. It’s certainly worth writing about more than once.”
How did you prepare to make this show?
And Sorkin answered: “I spent a lot of time in a lot of different newsrooms. I spent time as a fly on the wall at MSNBC and CNN, at Fox, at CBS. I know our designers spent time at all those places, and others [to design the ACN newsroom seen on the show]. I developed great e-mail relationships with a lot of people currently working in news. And I had a series of group lunches at my hotel [in New York, where the show takes place, though it's filmed in Los Angeles] with some of the best minds in news.”
You have a history of producing TV shows for broadcast television. How’d this show end up at HBO?
And he answered: “They invited me. If they invite you, you say yes. HBO went to my agent – my agent is the famous Ari Emanuel – and said, ‘Does he want to do a show here?’ And I said yes.”
On the subject of HBO and the expectations of its subscribers, Sorkin had this to say about “The Newsroom”: “I’m going to lose a lot of HBO subscribers here by saying that at least in the first season, there’s no nudity.”
“The Newsroom” premieres Sunday, June 24, at 10/9c on HBO.