22 February 2019
Need an articulate Aaron Sorkin rant in your life?
Jeff Daniels is nobody’s fool. He was hilariously brilliant as dof dog groomer Harry Dunne in 1994’s Dumb & Dumber, but he’s equally brilliant as political news anchor Will McAvoy in drama series The Newsroom (2012-2014, stream all three seasons on Showmax now). It’s a horribly underrated series to start with and a lot of news networks slammed it, going so far as to call it [series creator] Aaron Sorkin’s lowest moment in television history. But that’s wrong and we’ll tell you why… after this short break.
Them’s fightin’ words
Will and Jeff have one thing in common: they’re fan favourites. Jeff because he’s so likeable. Will because he doesn’t offend anyone. That’s until he’s asked in a panel discussion to explain what makes America the greatest country in the world. What follows is a two-and-a-half-minute long explanation about why America isn’t the greatest country in the world in arguably one of the most impressive character rants ever seen.
“I had been waiting for that speech for decades,” says Jeff. “I had seen other people give speeches like that where I’d sat listening intently. Now Aaron Sorkin of West Wing fame… in that Sorkin rant, that articulate Sorkin rant… he’s handing that to me. There was no way I was gonna screw that up. I had been waiting too long for that speech. And you can’t just float in sort-of knowing it. An Aaron Sorkin script. I was ready for that shot.”
If that didn’t make Jeff nervous, Aaron added to the pressure, telling him that “as important as this is for you, it’s twice as important for me.”
But the magic of this series is also in the way the characters articulate themselves, the way that everything flows and fits like a perfect puzzle piece. Whether it’s News Night social media manager Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) or chief economist Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), they are flawless in their deliveries.
Each statement is followed by a complete, intelligent comeback. There’s no joking around when it comes to Aaron’s work, adds Jeff.
“The man is serious about what he does. That’s why he isn’t involved in joking-around shows. Everything is serious and perfect and flawless. His work draws you into your character more than you realise. He’s there every step of the way in filming. Aaron knows his characters inside out, more than the people who’re bringing them to life.”
Making the news
The Newsroom is fictional, make no mistake about that. But it is rooted in real-life news stories, from Hurricane Katrina to the Boston Marathon terrorist bomb attack. Those serve as platforms for Will and his co-workers at News Night, the politically themed actuality series at Atlantis Cable News, and the stories that they report on.
But it’s not just phoning sources and getting a couple of quotes here and there. “The characters are in-depth. The content is engaging. Every word of every episode is written by Aaron,” explains Jeff. “It’s really difficult to do well. Aaron’s way isn’t the standard. That isn’t how he works. Every 12 days, when he’s done with one script, he has a new mountain to climb.”
The Newsroom highlights the daily “struggles” faced by the news team, whether it’s from sources or infighting, or even the powers that be from upstairs casting down doom, gloom and thundery on the crew. Will is no stranger to these and he has almost daily back-and-forth wars of words with Atlantis president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston).
They argue over everything from journalist integrity and ethics to whether or not Will’s suit and hair will look great onscreen. And it’s a partnership that works because that love-hate friendship exists in the real world.
The characters push each other to new levels, to new highs with their work. Neal, for example, has gone from recording a news story on his cellphone to running social media for one of the country’s biggest television shows – and something new happens in each episode that relates to how social media has influenced the world and news broadcasting.
The Boston Marathon story (Season 3, episode 1) is a turning point, for example. After the humiliation of retracting a story in Season 2 and seeing its viewer trust drop to almost nil, Neal chooses to run a story about a terror attack at the global sporting event. When the world realises that the News Night Twitter feed is reporting actual news as it’s happening, that belief comes flooding back. And that’s what happens in the real world – news is no longer waiting for the News Show at 8pm every night. If you want to know what’s happening, you need to be in touch with social media.
Or you can stream The Newsroom and see how it fits together behind the scenes.