In television, there are guilty pleasures and sublime ones, and “The Newsroom,” beginning its final season Sunday, is a little bit of both. Or at least that’s how many real-life TV news professionals describe it.
“It really is a love-hate affair,” said Steve Lange, senior executive producer of “TechKnow” on Al Jazeera America. “I love the heroics of the work they’re doing, the journalism. And I hate the drama of all the romances and the craziness.”
From the beginning, Aaron Sorkin’s inside look at the inner-workings of a prominent cable-news station drew snarky tweets and skeptical commentary from journalists who saw it as, at best, a well-intentioned but often-contrived depiction of their industry.
Now, after two ratings-challenged seasons on HBO, the fictional Atlantis Cable News will enter its truncated home stretch. (The final season consists of a mere six episodes.) For some who have stuck with it since its highly anticipated series premiere in June 2012, the sendoff will be more bitter than sweet. Lange said he will watch the final season despite having grown frustrated by the show’s snowballing melodrama -- a heavy focus on love affairs, which he said “took over the show” in Season 2.
“They just took it too far,” Lange said. “With a lot of the people in our newsroom, our issue is, if they didn’t ‘jump the shark,’ it would’ve been great.”
This is not to say the series completely failed in its attempts at realism. Lange, who has spent most of his career in a control room, pointed out that many of the show’s faithful flourishes -- shots of computers running Avid iNews software and staffers scrambling to put together last-minute stories -- are spot-on.
To achieve that realism, Sorkin employed working news professionals as consultants, including Ashleigh Banfield, who hosts “Legal View With Ashleigh Banfield” on CNN. Banfield said in an email that what viewers see on screen is a testament to those consultants, and to “Sorkin’s genius.” But there’s a catch.
“Aaron is a hopeless romantic,” Banfield added. “His scripts are always committed to making sure that the viewer is thoroughly entertained and gripped by what he or she sees. So that means there have been a few instances where I’ve winced at the electronic magic that happens on the show that could never be pulled off in a real newsroom.”
Ricky Camilleri, a host for HuffPost Live who covers film and television, said the show’s precision is a kind of double-edged sword. “What makes ‘The Newsroom’ accurate is what also makes it difficult to watch,” he said. “The show does a great job at mimicking the self-important, narcissistic personalities that exist in real TV newsrooms.”
But Camilleri, who interviewed “The Newsroom” star Jeff Daniels Thursday, also said the show lacks a sense of irony and gallows humor that courses through many media organizations. “TV news producers work on all kinds of stories every day, and having a dark or cynical sense of humor can sometimes make the day a little easier,” he said. “It’s that satire that ‘The Newsroom’ lacks and [that] ultimately makes it unenjoyable for me to watch.”
Given the mixed reviews, it’s hard to picture “The Newsroom” joining the ranks of journo-classics such as Alan J. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men” or James L. Brooks’ “Broadcast News.” But Lange said he wouldn’t be surprised if the series, like those earlier movies, inspired young people to pursue journalism as a career choice, despite the real-life drama that comes along with it.
“At its best, I think ‘The Newsroom’ is about the work, about the journalism,” Lange said. “If you walked into the newsroom at Al Jazeera America, that’s what you’d see -- a bunch of people who really want to do it for the work. On a really good episode, that’s what makes ‘The Newsroom’ work. And I think it’s what makes our newsroom work.”