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“The Newsroom” – Season 2, Episode 1: First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers

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Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 11:55 pm

Grade: B+

The closest thing to responsible broadcast journalism is found on your local television news. However, no matter how you crunch the numbers, that product is dying.

A report published by Pew Research Center examining media in 2012 shows local TV news viewership is down in almost every way. The report reveals local news affiliates are losing “in every key time slot.”

The general consensus is that people are turning off their TVs and turning on their computers, droids and iDevices to get their news. That’s not quite right. Television news is alive, though it finds itself living and breathing in a package that would make the forefathers of television news cringe: cable news.

Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and HLN use angry talking heads and theatrics to pull in viewers at a consistent pace. According to emails unearthed in 2010, Fox News producers were urged to use rhetoric that would stimulate its conservative audiences. Earlier this month, CNN covered the trial of George Zimmerman instead of a military coup in Egypt because a human drama is more attractive to viewers.

What does this examination of TV news have to do with “The Newsroom?” Everything.

The second season of Aaron Sorkin’s (“The West Wing,” “The Social Network”) HBO news drama “The Newsroom” continues doing what the first season set out to do: challenge the news to reclaim and perform its pivotal democratic responsibility.

Did you roll your eyes at that last sentence? That is to be expected. In fact, “The Newsroom” will have even the slightest realists rolling their eyes from time to time. Aaron Sorkin is not trying to create a reality; he’s trying to create an idealism.

“The Newsroom” takes place in the recent past so the episodes can tackle real news events. The benefit of retrospection is a powerful one, a facet that allows Sorkin’s news producers and on-air talents to be news superheroes. For instance, staff member Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) has an inkling about an up-and-coming protesting group called Occupy Wall Street while financial commentator Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) wants to start a conversation about drone strikes just before the controversy really gets boiling.

Setting the all-too-perfect circumstances aside, “The Newsroom” is getting more comfortable with itself. Much of that comfort stems from lead anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). So far in season 2, the drama between McAvoy and McHale is bearable because it’s rooted in the newsy theme of the show, unlike other couples caught up in “7th Heaven” dramatics.

I don’t mind the contrived news aspect of the show, but the romance is too much. Sorkin needs to lay off the love triangles. If this were reality, everybody in Human Resources would request a transfer.

“The Newsroom” is different and relevant, and that’s what makes it stand out. It’s an outlet for us to take a look at news events and news coverage in a critical way. The potential Achilles Heel of the show is the romantic, character-driven sub-plot garbage that barely ever resonates.

We know Sorkin can be extraordinary. With NBC’s “The West Wing,” he brought America into the White House and breathed life into politics. With “The Newsroom,” Sorkin can do something similar by shaping public opinion of television news and reinstalling responsibility in American news outlets.

If Sorkin allows tough questions of media ownership and issues surrounding current events that propel the season, I foresee a series that has the potential to reinvigorate broadcast news.

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