I got a bunch of thoughtful emails from thoughtful readers after my largely positive season appraisal of "The Newsroom" ran in Friday's Newsday. Clearly this series has resonated with many viewers and critics, positively with the former.
But I was struck in a couple of instances by what some viewed as the series' chief virtue — that it offered a candid look at how editorial decisions are made in the newsrooms of major television networks.
I didn't have the heart to tell those readers, but .?.?. no, that is not the series’ chief virtue. That doesn't even belong on the list of virtues. "The Newsroom" is a fairy tale, almost wholly disembodied from the real world of television journalism, even with its real world takes on newsmakers as diverse as Casey Anthony and Grover Norquist.
But Aaron Sorkin, in his defense, isn't seeking verisimilitude as much as (if I may coin a new word) quasi-similitude, in which viewers are lulled into thinking this is a real world when in fact all Sorkin wants to do is mount an entertaining series and score a few points at the same time.
"The Newsroom" is kind of a Trojan horse of a series, ingratiating itself and then — once inside your head — unleashing its hordes of Sorkian notions of fairness, Democracy, the Tea party, threats to American life (as he sees them), and so on. Verisimilitude be damned.
Some critics have assailed him for that, but I applaud him: After all, just look at "True Blood": Most TV just wants to gore you (or bore you). "The Newsroom" cares about ideas and ideals — perhaps those are clumsily handled on occasion, but the theatrics, writing and uniformly superb acting easily make up for that...
But no, "The Newsroom" is nothing like the real newsroom — and the fault line was so glaring, so obvious, so ludicrous in Sunday's "The Greater Fool" that it overwhelmed everything else, notably the tangled love story lines and what should have been Will's triumphant "Republican in Name Only" closing speech.
A belligerent nurse who demands that Will cover her aunt's inability to vote? A feckless company president who meekly admits to wiretapping after being presented with the flimsiest evidence of his betrayal — which he doesn't even bother to read?
An anchor of a putative news program who scolds the Tea Party as a betrayal of the GOP ideals?
Uh uh.. No... Never.... Not in this TV universe or another. IT DOESN'T HAPPEN THAT WAY. The entire British government couldn't get Rupert Murdoch's son to own up to his alleged role in the News Corp. wiretapping scandal — which of course this was based on — but all it took was Solomon's recipe for beef stew to get Reese to cave. And why, seriously, would his minions tap Will's phone then — oops — accidentally delete Mac's message? There are easier ways to get rid of a troublesome anchor — it's called "firing him." Believe it or not, that happens all the time in TV news. Wiretapping is not required.
Sunday was a letdown even though I remain a fan of this series. But it needs to get leaner, tougher — excise the fat and the schmaltz, the "Broadcast News-y" love stories, the false notes, and then drag viewers into the REAL world of TV journalism, and the stakes involved. Sorkin and his terrific writers are onto something: This is a vitally important business, and vitally important to the country. But get the small details right first — then go for the jugular.
Bottom line: A letdown of a finale.