HBO’s new drama series about TV news — “The Newsroom” — is a fictional place modeled loosely on all the real-life TV newsrooms creator Aaron Sorkin was allowed to visit.
It’s based on no network in particular, nor are its characters, Sorkin insisted, when we caught up with him recently for an interview at HBO headquarters in New York.
And that goes for Will McAvoy, the anchorman played by Jeff Daniels who was rumored to be modeled on Keith Olbermann.
That’s one thing you should know about this show, just in case you detect shades of KO in the McAvoy character (which, truth be told, we did not, when we viewed a couple of episodes on a preview DVD recently).
Sorkin made a point of telling us Will was not Keith and we have no reason not to believe him.
So that’s one thing — here are five other things about the show that we learned when we talked to Sorkin and his two co-stars, Daniels and Emily Mortimer:
1) OK, so this cable news organization and its people are fictional — but the news they’re reporting on is real: In the series premiere, it’s the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. “It just would have felt like a fake world if I was making up the news,” Sorkin told us. “I wanted the news to be real. The only way for the news to be real was to set the show in the very recent past. [The show begins] on April 20, 2010 [with the BP story], and this first 10-episode season covers about 18 months. … There’s a news story in almost every episode.”
2) Daniels got advice from another HBO star when filming on “The Newsroom” became particularly intense (not to mention time-consuming): Jim [Gandolfini] was very helpful to me. [Co-star] Sam [Waterston] said and Jim agreed that, at some point in the middle of the series, you’re gonna be so tired [and] mentally exhausted [that] you’re going to look around for an exit and there isn’t one. [Jim] goes, ‘Just hang on.’ And it’s true. About Episode Five, the brain just stopped working. And I got a day off and I recovered.” Daniels worked with the “Sopranos” star in the Broadway play “God of Carnage” in 2009.
3) Actors love reciting the material Aaron Sorkin writes: Both Daniels and Mortimer said so in separate interviews. “[Actor] Tim Busfield’s a friend,” Daniels said, “and he had done a lot of ‘West Wings’ [written by Sorkin] and many other things. When I got this, Tim said, ‘Wait ’til you see what you get to say.’ And, every week – that’s what’s been so thrilling about this particular project.” Said Mortimer, “We have nine days to do 80 pages of dialogue and it’s really intense. … Aaron is so brilliant and you feel like you kind of need to be brilliant to be able to pull off this thing in the way that it deserves to be pulled off.”
4) The show dramatizes the chief challenges of non-stop, 24-hour news: Sure, there’s the battle for ratings, of course, but Daniels identified another issue the public doesn’t really know about, but one that news producers and their staffs grapple with everyday: Filling their airtime. “How do I fill my hour?” he asked rhetorically, when we asked him what he learned about the challenges of TV news. “I’ve got eight minutes worth of facts and substantiated stories, and I gotta fill 60 minutes. How do I do that?” That struggle is one of the issues “The Newsroom” addresses.
5) “The Newsroom” lacks certain elements that HBO subscribers have come to expect — profanity and nudity: There’s just a little of the former, and none of the latter. “Even with the creative freedom, the freedom of language that you have on HBO, I’m not going crazy with [adult] language,” Sorkin said. Added Mortimer, “No disrobing took place — which is probably a relief to most people.”
“The Newsroom” premieres Sunday, June 24, at 10 p.m./9c on HBO.