Rooting for “The Newsroom”

The second season of the erratic Aaron Sorkin drama, returning Sunday, raises hopes the show will become TV's journalism equivalent of "The West Wing."

Last August, toward the end of the erratic first season of “The Newsroom,” Entertainment Weekly added the HBO drama to TV’s “hate-watching” pantheon – shows whose entertainment value rest largely in their ability to annoy audiences.

The Aaron Sorkin-led program, no doubt, generated far too many eye-roll-inducing incidents, beginning with the contrivance of a very personal email that accidentally got sent newsroom-wide. But the show also produced a modest share of compelling moments – most notably its realistic handling of some news organizations’ mishandling of the 2011 shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Rather than hate-watch, as the show returns for Season 2 Sunday, we’re rooting for “The Newsroom”: As cable TV news searches for its soul and newsrooms of all kinds struggle amid major change, the profession deserves a “West Wing”-quality depiction and examination.
In its inaugural run, “The Newsroom,” as we’ve noted, quickly emerged as the most frustrating show on television. The premise – Jeff Daniels as a conservative news talk show host who channels his Howard Beale-like mad-as-hell frustration into a search for the truth – brimmed with promise. But high hopes the well-cast Sorkin production raised got buried in an excess of sanctimonious (and shrill) speeches, comic misfires (enough with the Sasquatch, already) and tortured office romances.
Sorkin, who has publicly wrung his hands about the show’s weaknesses, reportedly spent the off-season seeking advice from folks in journalism, government and the military, as detailed in a recent Hollywood Reporter cover story touting his efforts to create a “New Newsroom.”
In its first season, the show both gained and lost by playing out months-old news stories, like the Giffords shooting, in near-real time. Pulling insight from hindsight is no easy task. Judging from previews, “The Newsroom” will tackle the presidential campaign this season, as well as a fictional story about an erroneous report that turns into a nightmare legal battle for Daniels’ Will McAvoy and his colleagues at the ACN news network. Marcia Gay Harden plays a First Amendment lawyer, joining a strong lineup that already includes Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda.
We’ll see whether Sorkin, who first rose to fame with “A Few Good Men,” can resist the crutch of setting too much of “The Newsroom” in a courtroom. Still, his track record of creating well-wrought characters and giving them plenty (sometimes too much) to say, dangles the potential of delivering a TV comeback story that will force the hate-watchers to tune in elsewhere. Check out a Season 2 preview below:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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