LB: Alas, Poor Aaron…

by Larry Brody

…Sorkin, that is. Looks like everyone’s after him these days, and not in a good way.

And a short while ago he was such a golden boy. Screenwriting Oscar winner! Beloved creator of THE WEST WING! Toast of what we used to call “the Intelligensia” with his cult fave SPORTS NIGHT.

Now, though, he’s getting creamed in the press/on the web by critics and viewers alike. It isn’t just a case of, “Oh, dood, we’re so disappointed. THE NEWSROOM has really let us down,” but of, “Jesus, Sorkin, you phony, arrogant sonuvabitch, you lied to us, man!”

On the surface, the problem is Sorkin’s appearance at the TV Critics Association press tour, during which he unequivocally denied that he’d fired most of the writing staff of THE NEWSROOM, and then proceeded to equivocate about it. Even formerly vocal fans have been jumping all over him on this one, as though delighting in having caught the emperor without his clothes on.

And, I think, that’s what it’s all about. We love to catch people out, to expose the mighty, even those we’ve made so mighty with our approval/praise. By “we” I mean all humans. I’ve seen it so many times that the syndrome seems hard-wired.

Remember how much everyone loved Stallone back in the ROCKY days? Until he accepted his Oscar, thanked all “you little Rockies out there” and immediately distanced himself from his fans. Told us that he saw himself as special. As elevated. All it took was one word: “You.”

Sorkin’s sin is similar. By running a series in which its characters are constantly making moral and ethical judgments that by both implication and overt statement set them up above everyone in not only their TV universe but the viewers’ universe as well, he has for all practical purposes installed himself as the Godlike Arbiter of All Things Just and Good and True.

I’m not saying he did that deliberately, but that’s the result of all his deliberate decisions about the show. That’s the effect on everyone who watches it. We all get the same message: “Aaron Sorkin has set up certain standards of human wonderfulness and is holding each and every one of us up to them.”

And the immediate human reaction to such a message is: “Asshole.”

By making himself a god, Sorkin automatically creates a new set of standards to be used by us judging him. He wants us to be so much better than we are? Fine. As long as he seems better than the average bear too.Much better.

And, of course, he doesn’t. Because he isn’t. No one is. We’re all just people, trying to do our best. All of us fail, a hundred times a day, every day. And, at this point in his career, Aaron Sorkin’s professional/personal failures simply cannot be tolerated, even by those who once adored him.

Sorry, Aaron, but you don’t have a prayer of surviving this. No one in your position does. Because the truth is that the real, hidden, all-too-true-and-human reason we build pedestals and then place people upon them is so we can pull our idols down later and Hulk-smash ’em.

(In case you wondered why the Hulk is so popular. Hmm, gonna be hard to pull him down, isn’t it? But that’ll just make it so much more fun.)

Check out ‘Moses and the Golden Calf’ and other fine work by ~garadrobe

 

Positively Our Last Post About THE NEWSROOM

We swear!

How HBO Made It Look Like Critics Liked ‘The Newsroom’, by Jeff Bercovici

Critical reception of “The Newsroom,” Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series set in the TV news business, has been generally cool. On Metacritic.com, which averages out reviews from all over, its score is a distinctly mediocre 57. Even those critics who’ve embraced it have generally done so with considerable caveats.

You wouldn’t know that from ads HBO has been running to promote it, though. A two-pager that ran in last week’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter, among other places, quotes breathless-sounding praise from The New York Times, Time and Salon, among two dozen outlets. Yet all three of the reviews those blurbs were drawn from were distinctly negative.

The quote from the Times, bannered atop the full width of the spread, reads: “Wit, sophistication and manic energy…A magical way with words…a lot of charm.”

Times TV critical Alessandra Stanley did write those words. But she also wrote, “[A]t its worst, the show chokes on its own sanctimony,” said it “ suffers from the same flaw that it decries on real cable shows on MSNBC or Fox News” and called the show’s central structural conceit “probably a mistake.”

Time’s James Poniewozik, summarizing his views on “The Newsroom” for non-subscribers, flatly declared, “I was not a fan.” Yet the ad makes it sound like he was, burbling, “The pacing is electric…captures the excitement.”

Salon’s Willa Paskin is quoted in the ad calling “The Newsroom” “captivating, riveting, rousing.” Here’s what she actually wrote: “The results are a captivating, riveting, rousing, condescending, smug, infuriating mixture, a potent potion that advertises itself as intelligence-enhancing but is actually just crazy-making.”

Then there’s Paste’s Aaron Channon, who supposedly called the show “remarkable…intelligent.” Here’s a more representative sampling of his review: “Compared to the standard established during the past several years by HBO and AMC, early returns on The Newsroom are disappointing.”

A scandal this is not.  Movie studios have been doing this sort of thing, and getting called out for it, for decades. And, to be fair, a number of the reviews quoted in the ad are genuine raves.

But twisting slams to make them sound favorable is not something HBO has done much of in the past, or needed to, with most of its shows becoming instant critical darlings. The last new HBO series to fare this poorly with critics was the short-lived “John From Cincinnati,” which got a composite score of 51 on Metacritic.

Read it all

Aw, Jeff, you had the fish, but you let it off the hook. Why, baby, why? Remember what Alvin Sergeant and Lillian Hellman say in JULIA: “Be bold!”

LB: Three Shows I No Longer Watch

by Larry Brody

NETWORK’s Howard Beale, the spokesman character for writer Paddy Chayefsky,  famously said, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” I’m not mad, or even angry, but I am frustrated by some recent viewing experiences, so I’m not taking it anymore either.

In particular, three TV series that I thought would serve me well have committed the cardinal sin of irking me to  the point of no return:

  1. THE NEWSROOM
    Yep, this bouncing new baby, which just a few weeks ago I saw as so full of promise, is history to me now. Why? Because I just plain can’t believe in the reality of the characters any longer.Specifically, the three main leads, whose character names I have erased from my mind.An idealistic anchorman willing to go to the wall to prove to his former girlfriend (his producer) that she should’ve stayed his adoring babe? An idealistic “modern woman” news producer whose eyes bug out with jealousy every time said anchorman shows her his latest date? A major cable station News Director who cares more about informing the public than ratings and is clueless about how to manipulate his bosses so he gets what he wants?Every one of those characters is impossible in today’s TV news culture. I appreciate the show’s intentions, but I’m out.
  2. THE CLOSER
    For years this show has featured a protagonist, whose name, Brenda Leigh, I do remember because, hey, shoot me, but I like country music, who fascinated me. She was an idealistic assistant police chief  so dedicated to putting bad guys away that she wheedled and lied not only to her  boss but also to her husband and herself. I could  identify with that kind of self-delusion.  Simple as that. But about a week ago the series came back after a hiatus with a much altered Brenda. A cruel, abusive bitch who was perfectly willing to sacrifice a rape victim’s sanity to get her man.  The Southern charm which sheathed the character’s iron will for so long is gone.  And the iron will is a barbed, pointy razor. It looks like the show is headed for an ending (it’s going off the air at the end of the season) in which Brenda is fired/humiliated/possibly even jailed. As well she should be.If the show intends to show that its lead has crossed the line and become a baddy herself, that’ll be pretty damn cool. But the attitude in the writing suggests that those running it think she’s justified and is getting a raw deal.  So I’m out for now. (But willing to return if they cook her goose to my taste by the finale.)
  3. EUREKA
    This show was a lighthearted science fiction romp every year of its existence – except this one. I watched it for the  “family,” the banter and generally warm relationships between the leads. This season, however, the ties between everyone I cared about have constantly been in  jeopardy, and the unconvincing suspense has  pushed me away from  the series just as the gimmicky dangers have pushed the characters apart.To be sure, the finale tied up everything and brought everyone back together. But it wasn’t merely the end of a season, it was the end of the series, which means the audience isn’t going to get a chance to enjoy the result. As a writer and producer, I’m all for the idea of making things as tough as possible on my heroes – but as a viewer I hated experiencing it. In other words, I’m a wuss.  Shoot me again.

Sheesh, am I am old crank, or what? What about you? Have any of your favorite shows disappointed you lately? How much? Are you still watching them?  I look forward to your comments.

EDITED TO ADD: Speaking of comments, io9 has a very interesting review of the  EUREKA finale. And even though it’s directly the opposite of mine, I found myself nodding in agreement as I read. WTF?

HBO Orders more of THE NEWSROOM and TRUE BLOOD

This Just In: HBO Orders New Seasons of The Newsroom and True Blood
by Kimberly Roots

HBO renewed two of its popular hour-long dramas Monday.

The cable net announced that it would bring back The Newsroom for a second season after airing only two episodes of the first season.

Additionally, the supernatural soap opera True Blood also has been renewed for a sixth season.

Read it all

Shows like these are the reason DVRs exist. Thanks, HBO.

THE NEWSROOM: A Minority Report

by Larry Brody

Once upon a time there was a new series called THE NEWSROOM. Its reviews were so terrible that even I had trouble making myself watch it.

All the BigMedia critics panned it.

All my friends panned it.

All my colleagues here at TVWriter™ panned it.

But a funny thing happened when I forced myself to rev up my DVR and have a look for myself. “Self,” I said, “we’ll just watch for 10 minutes, enough time so I can join the crowd and weigh in on everything that’s wrong with this show.”

I didn’t just watch for 10 minutes. Or 15. I watched for 72 minutes, and for every single one of those 72 minutes one thought was uppermost in my mind:

The BigMedia critics, my friends, and my colleagues are morons. totally missing the point.

This show is good. Good in ways that no television show has been good in 50 years.

Because it’s not a television, not really. At least,  not as we know television today, which is as mini-movies with, maybe, a little more point but much less imagery and imagination than the real thing.

THE NEWSROOM is television from the era of PLAYHOUSE 90. Live and wonderful – except, of course, for the live part.

But it’s shot as though it’s live. Acted as though it’s live. And, most importantly, it’s written as though it’s live.

THE NEWSROOM is NETWORK’s shining, eager, idealistic younger sister. And even though it was a movie, it also was shot, acted, and written like a play.

This show is the victory of words and intelligence and the need to demonstrate the very best that words and intelligence can create. No one talks. They sing. Gloriously and unrealistically, after the manner of live television masters like Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky. And Broadway geniuses like Clifford Odetts, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams.

The characters in THE NEWSROOM all speak from their souls. They say the things that, in life, we all struggle to hide. They say them effortlessly with words that soar off the screen, the way the characters in great stageplays do. None of this movie-style, “I’ll say it with a look” crap.

Words.

In the early ’60s there was a war on for the hearts and minds of the television business as well as the audience. On one side we had Hollywood. On the other we had Broadway. What was it going to be? Pictures or words? Stars or actors? Speed of light car chases or speed of soul meaning?

Hollywood won.

But now Aaron Sorkin is here to fire one last salvo. Writing a series about the need for intelligence and heartfelt belief. And demonstrating everything his words advocate by giving us exactly that on the screen.

For that he and those who are backing THE NEWSROOM will have my eternal thanks. For bringing television back to life. For bringing my love for TV back to the forefront of my brain.

Hold on. Now that I think about it, THE NEWSROOM does remind me of one particular film after all.

To me, what I saw today was THE AVENGERS, with all the pulse-pounding heroic moments, one after another after another.

Illustrated not with action, but with language.

Time to flick on my 56″ plasma and watch it overwhelm even that perfect screen – again.