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The Newsroom Does It Again: The Power Of Intelligent Television

by Cathryn Sloane | University of Iowa

F Posted in: Sports and Culture, Voices P Posted on: August 6, 2012
Cathryn Sloane NEW 8/6 Cathryn Sloane

Just as the fast-paced dialogue and intense atmosphere of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing attracted political fanatics and viewers with no strong interest in the political process alike, The Newsroom uses the same techniques to draw viewers in whether they are news junkies or people who rarely turn on CNN. After seven episodes, The Newsroom has cemented its status among intellectually stimulating television shows, shows that simultaneously challenge and entertain viewers. This isn’t to say that light-hearted sitcoms can’t be just as good for the soul — I certainly can’t go more than a few days without my Friends fix — but The Newsroom exhibits exactly the kind of compelling, thought-provoking television that is quick to earn my fandom.

Even if I hadn’t already been highly impressed by the show, last night’s episode would have done the trick. Focusing on the historic night our country received the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, this was an absolutely bone-chilling hour of television. As I watched the characters take in the gradually incoming calls, emails, text messages and tweets regarding the announcement of the President’s Address and the mystery of what it was about, I was brought right back to where I was that very night. The buzz, shock and pure intensity of these life-changing moments were instantly brought to life. From the variety of guesses from the staff early on, to the growing anxiousness of Don, Sloan and Elliott on the plane, to the loaded emotions of both impatience and hesitancy to report the death on-air before the President confirmed it, the feelings of that night were recreated superbly.

Additionally, the more personal subplots of Will being high and Maggie incessantly hounding Jim about his romantic life both made for some light humor that balanced out the drama well.  Characters even addressed these fluffy occurrences as such, another great tactic to keep the show believable to viewers as opposed to a purely-for-entertainment inclusion of side plots without regard for how they would actually be received.

These enjoyable moments included Charlie and Mack’s reactions to Will failing to check his email on time due to his intoxicated state — a fatal error that made News Night 20 minutes late in officially reporting the death — and Jim’s interruption of Maggie’s nagging about his relationship with Lisa to sarcastically comment they “thankfully weren’t in the middle of breaking news.” All in all, it’s the combination of these various elements that allows The Newsroom to be such an intelligently captivating show.

Sorkin’s latest project is certainly in good company with many other intelligent series that have made strong impacts over time. House, the aforementioned The West Wing, All in the Family, 24, The Wonder Years, and a personal favorite of mine, Gilmore Girls, are just a few of many examples that come to mind.

Each of these shows boldly tackles something different and strays from the usual cliché stories that run-of-the-mill shows tend to repeat over and over. Whether the focus is on the adventures of a federal agent, the observations of an adolescent boy, or the brainstorming behind medical diagnostics, these shows demonstrate that solid writing, logical and meaningful plots, and realistically multi-dimensional characters are the keys to creating a special and memorable series.

Some of the most lasting elements of these shows are their iconic characters, and I see The Newsroom headed down that same path. I already see Will McAvoy becoming a point of reference in journalistic discussion, just as Archie Bunker helped bring sensitive social debates to the mainstream, Kevin Arnold gave a whole new meaning to nostalgia, and Lorelai Gilmore provided a new perspective on female empowerment. Though obviously fictional, these characters have gained credibility in the eyes of many viewers. Clearly, I have found myself truly engaged in nearly everything the anchor of the fictional News Night has to say. Why?  It’s relevant, intriguing, witty, and most of all, I believe him.

As we saw last night, Sorkin and his team are able to perfectly marry all the different aspects of the show  that make it the esteemed piece of work I find it to be. The final product each week is a television show that I feel is a learning experience as much as it is a form of entertainment. I look forward to watching The Newsroom continue to unfold, as I hope more shows will embrace the opportunity to both challenge and entertain their viewers.

Cathryn Sloane Cathryn Sloane Cathryn Sloane is a '12 graduate from The University of Iowa with a B.A. in English and a concentration in Creative Nonfiction Writing. She hails from St. Louis, Missouri and has also written for USA TODAY College.

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