I guess I was expecting The Newsroom to open with a broadcast of the news from the newsroom. You know – behind the scenes. What happens before the anchor gets into the chair, and what happens after. But what do I know? That’s why I am writing a recap, and why Aaron Sorkin is writing the show. But that’s not news either. So let’s get started.
By the way, these recaps will be spoiler rich. I’m writing them, and commenting as I go, whether appropriate or not.
We open with four people sitting on a stage arguing. We don’t know three of them, and the one we do know is Will McAvoy, the ACN News Night anchor, played by Jeff Daniels, and he isn’t saying anything. He’s taking it all in. As the camera circles around, we get that this is a panel discussion of sorts, and there’s an audience. We will later learn that the discussion is going on in an auditorium at Northwestern University’s School of Journalism in Evanston, Illinois.
It is pure Sorkin – the camera swirls and people are talking, often at the same time, and passionately, loudly, and with satisfaction stemming from their inner belief that what they say is not only correct, but is certainly the only possible answer. It’s a lot to take in. But very quickly we come to understand that we can’t take it all in because we’ve arrived long after this began. We’ve no starting point. We begin to mentally distance ourselves from it.
As does McAvoy. They help us tune it out by lowering the volume and instantly we are in the same space as McAvoy, not really listening, and certainly not caring. McAvoy scans the audience and he thinks he sees a woman he knows, then he’s not sure.
JMM: That’s because they switched the woman – meaning we know but he does not.
Eventually the moderator takes another question from the audience. The question concerns McAvoy’s political leanings. McAvoy adroitly avoids giving a direct answer. Rather than admitting to which of the two political parties he supports, he answers that he supports the New York Jets.
JMM: Is Sorkin pals with Jet’s coach Rex Ryan, or maybe it is the Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. Whatever – this came out of nowhere and caught everyone by surprise. It does give us an indication that McAvoy has more than just a bit of the self centered sensibilty to him, and also that’s he’s a bit of a maverick. Maybe an asshole too. That’s a maybe.
McAvoy’s quite skilled in that kind of avoidance, and equally capable of enjoying this kind of mental gymnastics – that of never giving a straight answer when he chooses not to.
Another woman in the audience stands at the podium. Hi, my name is Jenny, I’m a sophomore, and my questions is directed to the three of you. Can you say in one sentence or less, why America is the greatest country in the world?
Panelist One (Sharon): Diversity and opportunity.
Panelist Two (Louis); Freedom and freedom so let’s keep it that way
Will McAvoy: The New York Jets…
But the Moderator isn’t going to let Will slide this time. He says that he’s going to require Will to answer the question, and he repeats it; What makes America the greatest country in the world?
Will stalls. “Well Louis and Sharon said it, diversity and opportunity and freedom and freedom…”. He thought that he had seen that familiar face in the audience. He looks for her again. He finds her – she holds up a sign “It’s not“, then another sign, “But it can be...”
Will continues to stall. The Moderator says that he won’t let Will leave for the airport until he answers.
Over the next few moments, Will first gives a litany of reasons why America isn’t the greatest country in the world. He rattles off stats, gives rankings, destroys the other panelist points about liberals and freedom.
We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy. 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined…
Let me repeat his conclusions: 1) the number of people incarcerated per capita, 2) the number of people (adults) who still believe in angels, and 3) in defense spending. He pauses for a moment then continues.
“Its not the greatest country in the world. That’s my answer. You think we are the only country that has freedom? Canada has freedom. So does Japan. Britain, France, Italy, Sweden. Australia. BELGIUM HAS FREEDOM! There’s 207 countries and 180 of them have freedom.”
The speech continues. Every one is halted in their tracks. No has ever heard anything like this. No one has ever said anything like this in a public forum [JMM: or on television], much less from a well known news anchor. Sorkin through McAvoy has grabbed us by our collective lapels and given us a thorough shaking up. We are speechless.
He pauses to catch his breath and let the audience absorb what he’s just uttered [us too!]. Then that sign appears again – ‘But it can be’
So McAvoy takes his foot off the vocal gas pedal that he had just pressed right down to the metal. He softens his tone. It’s not quite an apology. It’s more like a rememberance of things past – of better times.
“Sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. We put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists, and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it, it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election. And we didn’t scare so easy. We are able to be all these things, and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered.
The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”
Pow! McAvoy has just delivered one of the greatest TV speeches ever. Even if you didn’t agree with a single word of it. It was powerful. It was rich. You couldn’t take your eyes off the screen. It was riveting. It was Sorkin at his best. We are now 8 minutes in, and it is now, after that socko and stunning opening segment, time to roll the intro.
The intro has shots of old TV news studios. Of Murrow, of Cronkite, and of Chet Huntley. Icons each and every one. Of newsrooms as they once were – with the huge TV cameras, the tiny control rooms with their eight inch monitors, the crew stuffed into a tiny spaces. It looks so antiquated which is why these images of newrooms past merge with this newsroom, the one we will share with the cast and crew. The one with shiny, sleek, and modern equipment, the one that’s spacious and up to the minute, with every technological advance known to mankind on every desk. The one that will be humming with activity as this team will create the presentation of the news every night.
So begins The Newsroom, HBO‘s new Sunday drama series. Following McAvoy’s tirade/meltdown – which was just the first part of his speech that ended with, ” When you ask is America the greatest country – I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?” People tended to ignore the second part. On the way out, McAvoy apologized to the other panelists by blaming it on his medication for vertigo as the reason for his tirade. Naturally, a shitstorm followed, and McAvoy has been told to chill out and clear out. Take a vacay in St. Lucia. Take two weeks, and don’t call us.
When the show resumes we are in the ACN newsroom. It is a few weeks later. The huge newsroom is sparcely populated. A man and woman are discussing their plans for the evening. She has arranged a dinner: she and her boyfriend (the folks before us) and her parents who have flown in from somewhere. He’s not going to go.
Don: Tell them, Ive got to work late late.
Maggie: That’s a lie.
Don: Tell them anyway, you can sell it.
They’re Don, the Exec Producer of Will McAvoy’s news show. She is his girl friend Margaret ‘Maggie’ Jordan who is McAvoy’s new assistant whom Will has never met. They’re arguing in front of Neal, played by Dev Patel. They ask him to referee the situation but he declines.
Just then McAvoy arrives at the ACN headquarters and appears in the newsroom heading straight for his office. He’s just returned from his vacation, and he finds that his Exec Producer, Don, played by Thomas Sadowski, has decided to leave the show, and he’s taking most of the staff with him. Now remember, McAvoy was off to St. Lucia and incommunicado. No one could reach him. Now McAvoy is back, and only a couple of his staffers are left.
He has no idea. He asks the girl sitting where his assistant used to be. She has been replaced by Maggie Jordan who is played by Alison Pill.
Where is everybody? Where is my staff? Who are you?
Maggie is quaking in her boots. “Please go upstairs and talk to Charlie Skinner.
Maggie: I was told to tell you as soon as you came in
McAvoy is expected and is told to go right in. Skinner is at the top of the News Division. There may be people higher in the network, but no one is higher in the News Division. Sam Waterston has the role. He’s a tweedy/hounds tooth/glenplaid type of guy who wears a bow tie. He’s not quite John Houseman‘s Kingsfield from The Paper Chase, who wore a bow tie, and he’s not quite Lou Grant, the coatless – sleeves rolled up – tie loosened News producer from The Mary Tyler Moore Show – one of TV’s earliest series about the news. But he’s somewhere in between and … he’s an ex-marine.
Skinner tries to talk calmly to McAvoy. When McAvoy hears that Don and the staff have left because they chose to – he heads off down the hall. He’s steamed and immediate confrontation is on his mind. There’s going to be wild argument between Don and McAvoy. Don is cornered and finally lets it out that McAvoy isn’t all that nice. He berated the staff, he berated Don, his Exec-Producer in front of the staff, and he bigtime blew a big interview with a high ranking US Army General. It rages on hotly for a few minutes – it’s wild, loud, profane and exquisitely done. Near perfect timing, great angles, with quick cuts – a one shot, then a two-shot. We see all the facial reactions, the testosterone building, building, building. Rage is imminent. In short – the works.
Finally Skinner gets between them, threatening to kick ass, as he’s an ex-marine as well as looking like he’s in his early 70′s. He ushers McAvoy off to a watering hole for a scotch or three. This is where Skinner is going to give McAvoy the rest of the news. As he breaks it down for McAvoy, he tells him that he’s hired a new Exec Producer for him. She’s arriving today, and she’s bringing in some people.
McAvoy begins to sputter … She?
Yes, she, says Skinner. The new EP is to be Mackenzie McHale. This is the last person in the world that McAvoy wants for the job. You see, McHale is not only his ex-girl friend, but they also worked together as the talking head and the producer of the talking head’s TV show. Stormy and tempestuous only begin to describe their relationship. McAvoy is incensed. He rants that he has it in his contract that he has final approval for any ExP. Only he doesn’t. They go round and round until finally McAvoy says he heading out to his agent’s office. He intends to pull a power play, and renegotiate his contract to give him that power.
As he leaves, after screaming to Charlie Skinner about how much revenue he brings in – ‘I brought in 210 Million by myself. That may be chicken feed to this big company, but it’s not nothing!‘ Just as he’s about to leave our view, we get this last exchange as Skinner calls out to him:
Skinner: Will, when was the last time you saw her?
McAvoy: I don’t know. About three years ago.
Skinner: Coincidentally that was the last time you were a nice guy!
There you have it. We ‘ve already seen it for ourselves. McAvoy isn’t a nice guy. Harrison Ford played a pompous ass of a TV News Anchor in Morning Glory, but he had nothing on Jeff Daniels’s Will McAvoy.
Meanwhile, back at the newsroom, Mackenzie McHale arrives. She’s played by Emily Mortimer, and she’s marvelous. The actress is British but the character she plays was born in the USA so she’s also American. She’s just spent the last few years embedded in Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as Pakistan. She averaged about 4 hours sleep a night over the last few years. She wasn’t stashed in a fancy hotel – she was out in the field dodging bullets and bombs. We will soon find out how tough she is.
McHale: Hi, I’m Mackenzie McHale…
Maggie: How may I help you…
Maggie: [the light bulb goes on] Oh my God! Mackenzie McHale, I’m sorry [Seems that she did get the memo]
Just then, Don walks in. Remember he’s Maggie’s boy friend, and he was the Exec Producer. He and Mackenzie go back aways.
Don: Hi Mack, nice to see you.. [to Maggie] Mackenzie and I go way back. She gave me my first summer internship. [To Mackenzie] Don’t tell me you’re here to interview for my job?
McHale: No, I’m here to do your job…
Don: I don’t understand…
McHale: I don’t understand…
Apparently, Don did not get the memo. Mackenzie asks, I’m here to meet Will. Where is his office? Maggie lets it slip that he’s off at his agent’s office down the street and he should be back any minute.. Mackenzie thinks for a moment then says to Maggie,
“Let me try to guess at something and you tell me how close I am to being right. This whole move was done was behind Will’s back and he’s just found out now. And he stormed off to his agent’s office to see why he doesn’t have approval.”
Bingo. Mackenzie is real fast on the uptake. A few minutes of girls bonding follows with Mackenzie telling Maggie that’s she’s not an assistant – she’s now an associate producer. Just then a guy rushes in. He trips over Mackenzie’s Louis Vuitton luggage still on the floor. Not a graceful entrance to be sure.
This is Jim Harper. He’s played by John Gallagher Jr. He’s a bundle of energy. He’s young, he’s smart, and he will be Mackenzie’s right hand also known as her senior producer. He also admits to never having been in love.
Mackenzie sits him down. You see that girl over there (Maggie). She’s Don’s girlfriend, I don’t think he’s right for her. We need to work with Don for the next two weeks transitioning… and…he’s not going to like you. He’ll view you as a threat…
Jim: You’ve figured that all out, and you’ve met them all of a few minutes ago?
Or something like that. So Mackenzie is really and truly fast on the uptake. Sounds like she’s got some moves of her own in mind. It also seems like this would be the perfect moment for Will to appear.
As if it was written, actually it was, by Sorkin, not by me; Will marches in. Time freezes for a moment. The few remaining staffers stop what they’re doing to watch. Nothing happens for a few beats. Finally Mackenzie says,
Hi Will. Good to see you. This is Jim Harper, my senior producer. Will takes no notice of Harper at all.
Will: Let’s go into my office.
Will: [heading off to his office] Will somebody tell Don that the lunch party is over. We need somebody on the assignment desk, in case there’s – waddya call it – News!
Okay. We are now set for another major confrontation. Will is the star of the show. He and Mackenzie ended badly. This is the first time they’ve seen each other in three years. We are a bit more than thirty minutes in. And this is going to be one hell of a meeting.
It starts slowly and more than awkwardly. Mackenzie says, I tried to reach you while you were on vacation but no one seemed to know how to do that, or they weren’t willing to say. Actually, I tried to reach you many times over the last three years. Did you get my all my emails?
Maggie: And what did you think?
Will: I didn’t read them…
Maggie: I understand…there’s no need to apologize
Will: Thank you.
Pow. Will stays in character. He’s a real bad-ass. He’s not about to let anyone get close to him.
Mackenzie recovers from Will’s first solid verbal punch. While she’s thinking about what to say next, Will pops a cigarette into his mouth. It is a definite in-your-face gesture, intended to be a show of power, as if Mackenzie might freak. But she recovers nicely and offers some small talk. You look good after your vacation. You look rested. I’ve never been to St. Lucia, was it great?
Mackenzie: You were down there with Erin Andrews. I know it’s none of my business. You can go anywhere with anyone …
Will: Thank you again…
Mackenzie: [pauses for a moment] Hey this can work. In fact, its gonna work great. I asked my agent to negotiate a three-year contract. You know me. I think this is the longest contract I’ve ever…
Will: It’s not a three-year contract -
Mackenzie:[she's heard but doesn't believe what she's heard] I’m sorry?
Will: It’s not a three-year contract any more. He sits down. He’s confident. It’s a 156 week contract that gives me the opportunity to fire you 155 times at the end of each week. We’ll wait a few months so [HR won't have a story to shove up his ass]
Mackenzie: How did you get my contract changed?
Will: I gave the network back some money from my salary…
Mackenzie:How much money?
Will: A Million dollars a year.
Mackenzie: You gave back a million dollars a year?
Mackenzie: You gave back a million dollars to be able fire me any time you want?
Will: 3 Million dollars, and not any time I want – just at the end of each week.
Pow once again. Welcome back Mackenzie.
Just about then, Don comes back. Maggie introduces Don to Jim Harper. Just as Mackenzie predicted, Don doesn’t take to Jim at all. Especially once he sizes Jim up and sees that he does have a game, and can handle himself. Don and Maggie exit – with Don asking Maggie, On a scale of 1 to 10 how much trouble am I in [re the busted dinner plans]. Maggie says I’m over it.
Back in Will’s office, Mackenzie sets her self up for another massive body blow.
Mackenzie: Hey, do this to me, do this to me all you want, but you can’t do it to them
Mackenzie: People who followed me here. Jim Harper, my senior producer, bookers, desk editors, field agents…
Will: That can’t possibly be my problem…
Mackenzie: Come on now…
will: What do want from me Mackenzie?
Mackenzie: They’re in the process of moving, they gave security deposits, they’re looking for roommates, they’re…
Will: [cutting her off and raising his voice] THEY FUCKED UP MACK! THEY TRUSTED YOU!
Pow! and Pow! The entire office overheard. That’s how loud Will was. This is Will’s defining moment. His jaw is thrust out. He’s the king of the hill, the biggest man around…and nobody is going to tell him what to do. Mackenzie is appalled.
Right about now, we need something else. Something to galvanize everyone on board. How about a bit of news. Harper and everyone else is frozen. We hear a small bit of an electric noise, like a beep. It is a news alert coming across the wire service monitor.
Jim: We’ve got a news alert.
No one even turns around to listen.
Jim: Pardon me, Don – we’ve got a news alert.
Don looks at the wire service monitor. The latest incoming bulletin is highlighted in yellow. As if to say – the news service highlighted it – but we don’t react to a yellow – which means just a cut above average. Lukewarm at best. Don blows it off. Jim continues to read the bulletin.
Jim: There’s been an explosion off the coast of Louisiana -
Gary: How can there be an explosion in the middle of the water?
Jim and Neal: [simultaneously] Oil rig.
Neal: Well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico
Now this gets some attention. Don sends a girl off to the assignment desk to see if this is going anywhere.
Jim: [Reading the next bulletin out loud] Flames reach 150 feet into the air!
Time out: The date is April 20th, 2010. This is the date an actual British Petroleum (BP) oil rig blew up. Sorkin had decided that he didn’t want to create the news, so they chose to set the date when a real disaster occurred. This would turn out to be the worst ecological disaster in the history of the world. But for the show, this newsroom has no idea. The news has just reached them. They will of course swing into action. We already know what they don’t know. But while the show will lose a bit of suspense and surprise [we already know how this will play out in the ocean] we don’t know a thing about how or if this particular news network will be galvanized into action.
I think this was a wise choice by Sorkin. Said another way – now we’ll really see how a news organization works.
Meanwhile, the confrontation between Mackenzie and Will continues. Mack says if you’d read any of those emails, or taken my calls, you’d know that I take responsibility for everything [that happened between them]. Will says, I already didn’t know that, I already didn’t care.
MacKenzie – But I’m sorry..
Will: Are you?
Will: Mackenzie, you’ve no idea how I longed to hear those words. I forgive you, can you forgive me?
Mackenzie: Now you’re being sarcastic..
Will: [not the least bit defeated] You know me…
The news continues to mount. Emergency rescue crews arrive on the scene located 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Seven people are taken off the rig, but twelve to fifteen people are still missing.
Staffer: It’s still yellow
Don: Still Yellow [for them yellow is a non-event]
Jim: Don, they just haven’t changed the color, some one should knock on Will’s door and tell him…
Don: [interrupting and marking his turf] I’m not knocking on Will’s door right now, and you don’t work here yet – so dude, relax. [Walking off] Anything new?
Jim: There might be…
Don: [Annoyed] What?
Jim: A gulf oil rig exploded…
Neal: There might be more than just the missing workers. He explains that the well is 18,000 feet below the surface. The pressure is x, and they may have problems with the oil still pumping.
Don: What the hell is he talking about?
Jim: There might be a massive oil spill 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana!
Don pulls Jim aside and tells him to button it up. What’s your name again? You’re in my newsroom, and you’re behaving in a way that’s bothering me. Got to be blunt.
Jim: Got it.
Don walks off – apparently more interested in some news from Pasadena. Jim pulls out his phone and gets started working.
Meanwhile, Will is laying it out for Mackenzie about how he’s going hire his own ExP and Mack’s people will be entitled to interview for posts with the new EP. [I can tell we are going to get another Sorkin Special - a diatribe of magnificent proportions - a battle royal with words in play rather than swords or bullets. Mackenzie and Will - Round Two - coming up].
Will: For the moment your people can have their jobs. Like I said, I have to wait to make a move, because there was a press release. But when I hire the new EP, who I will hire by hiring them myself, whoever it is, your people will be entitled to interview.
Mackenzie: Alright. Well I appreciate that. They’re really good people Will. You’re gonna want to keep them…don’t just dump them because…
Will: They’ll get a fair chance. [Will attempts to bring the meeting to a close by saying he has to start his script. Mackenzie is going to get out of his way, and she rises heading for the door. With the door half-open she turns back in]
Mackenzie: There’s nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
Will: [dismissing her] I’m just making sure you know you’re still on this side of the door…
Mackenzie: When there’s no information, much less wrong information, it can lead to calamitous decisions, and clobber any attempts at vigorous debate. That’s why I produce the news…
Will: [remaining in character, ever sarcastic] We’re all grateful to you…
Mackenzie: You’re spinning out of control
Will: No I’m not
Mackenzie: Your terrified you’re going to lose your audience. You’ll do anything to get them back. You’re one pitch meeting away from doing the news in 3D!
Will: This isn’t non-profit theater. It’s advertiser supported television. You know that…
Mackenzie: I’d rather do a good show for a 100 people than a bad show for a million if that’s what you’re saying..
Will: What is it you’re talking to me about right now?
Mackenzie: I’ve come here to produce a news broadcast that resembles the one we did before you got popular by not bothering anyone [pausing for effect] Lenno…
Will: I think Jay and I would rather remain employed if it’s all the same to you.
Mackenzie: It’s not all the same to me, you punk! [She gathers speed] I’ve come to take your IQ and your talent and put it to some patriotic fucking use! Where does it say that a good new show can’t be popular?
Will: Nielsen Ratings
Mackenzie: We’re going to do a good news show and make it popular at the same time:
Will [resisting strongly] That is impossible
Mackenzie: [on a roll] Between your brains, charm, looks and affability…and my
Will: [cutting her off] your refusal to live in reality…
Mackenzie: [getting quite angry] Nooo
Will: It’s impossible…
JMM; This is getting real good. If you saw it then you know what I mean. There’s never been a better time to be a fly on the wall. Even if you saw it, it flew by, ever quickening its pace, ever ratcheting up the weight of the verbal blows being delivered. Now, after seeing the show and reading it through, it just jumps off the page.
Will: [reaching for a hefty report] Social scientists have concluded that the country is more polarized now than at any time since the civil war… [poking at the report for emphasis] the… civil… war…
Mackenzie: Yes, people choose the news they want now…
Will: People choose the facts the want now, so what you’ve just described is impossible…
Mackenzie: Only if you belive that an overwhelming majority of Americans are preternaturally stupid…
Will: [virtually baring his fangs] I do…
Mackenzie: I don’t…and if you let me, I can prove it. What you’ve left out of your … sermon… is that America is the only country on the planet, that since its birth has said over and over and over that we can do better. It’s part of our DNA.
JMM: That’s captured Will’s attention. He listens as he strokes his brow. Not sure how long this will last, but it’s not over yet…
Mackenzie: People will want the news if you give it to them with integrity. Not everybody, not a lot of the people, five percent – but five percent more of anything is what makes the difference in this country. So we can do better!
JMM: Now Will is at a loss for words. It seems a bit unreal. No fiery comeback, no belittling sneer…it unnerves Mackenzie. She says What…
Will: [ still with his fingers to his right brow - pausing, pausing] I’m thinking… [more pause because Will is not about to roll over that easily - here it comes] …yeah, that whole speech did nothing for me…
JMM: That black-hearted knave. He’s insufferable. But that’s what a Sorkin character can and will do, whenever possible. Blow some one else out of the water in a single phrase.
Mackenzie shakes her head. Not defeated, but stunned by Will’s insufferability. Round two? I make it Mackenzie ahead on points but with just a slim and slender lead. Cut back to the newsroom. Jim wants to talk with Don.
Don: I don’t mind you sitting anywhere to observe, but I mind you doing anything else.
Jim: Got it, but I just got a call from a source…
Don: What kind of source?
Jim: I can’t tell you much, but he’s an engineer with BP sitting in on meetings in London, and he says they don’t know how to cap the well…
Don: He’s sampled the verbal kool aid – but he has to say it again, ‘Who’s the source?’
Jim: Can’t tell you a lot but I’ve got two pages of notes…
Don: Oh great – he walks off, totally dismissive…
Jim’s phone buzzes again…Thanks for calling back. He looks at Neal and nods. Neal nods back.
Back in Will’s office, Mackenzie starts a lengthy quote which she says is from Don Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quixote. I’m not going to repeat it here… because it goes out of her mouth into the wrong ears.
Will: That’s not Cervantes. Those words were written 45 years ago by the lyricist for The Man of LaMancha.
Mackenzie: Didn’t think you knew that, but the point is still the same. It’s time for Don Quixote…[fist pump]
Will: You think I’m him?
Mackenzie: No, I’m him. You’re his horse.
Will: He rode a donkey..
Mackenzie: Well, I can’t help you there…
Will: I have to write my…
Mackenzie: I’ll write it for you…
She launches what would be Will’s script out loud [from scratch]. The Volcano eruption in Iceland is believed to have started on March 20th…and has led to a world-wide transportation disaster. The suspension of air traffic was in no way caused by America …which I love – you have to believe me
Will: You want me to get in the same shouting match as everyone else…
Mackenzie: I want you to not apologize for saying something …
Will: [raising his arms to the upright position as in the I surrender manner] All right…
Mackenzie: You got yourself into the shouting match when you took the vertigo medicine. I have you winning it…
Will: And what does winning it look like to you?
Mackenzie: Reclaiming the 4th estate. reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession. A nightly newscast that informs a debate worthy of a great nation. Civility. Respect. And a return to what’s important. The death of bitchiness. The death of voyeurism and gossip. Speaking the truth to stupid. No demographic sweet spots. A place where we all come together…
JMM: For once, Will has to shut up. This is a standard Sorkian soliloquy. If there were banners to unfurl, we’d all see them. If a sign lit up that said Applaud – it would be like the sound of thunder. Mackenzie sits down in front of Will.
Mackenzie: We’re coming to a tipping point. I know you know that. There’s going to be a huge conversation. Is government an instrument for good, or is it every man for himself? Is there something bigger we want to reach for, or is self-interest our basic resting post? You and I are among the few people who can frame that debate…
Will: It’s… it’s…
JMM: Round two now has Mackenzie ahead of Will. I’m reminded of Jimmy Stewart’s passionate speech to the US Senate in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I’m reminded of Michael Douglas’s speech to the newsmen gathered in the White House Press Briefing room in The American President.
This one is not the better of those speeches, and it’s not waving the banners of democracy. But it is standing for decency, and isn’t that what we all want?
Well, next out of the chute is Don basically waving off Jim Harper once more. Jim makes believe he’s heading out – a beaten man – instead he makes a break for Will’s office were he knows he’ll find Will and Mackenzie.
He bursts in followed by Don. He tells Will and Mackenzie that which they had no idea about. He references his sources at BP and Halliburton. Will is all ears. But Will needs to hear more. Jim tells them that he must hear what Neal has to say. Will thinks Neal (Dev Patel) is the IT guy. He’s not. He actually writes Will’s blog. Will doesn’t even know that he has a blog. Just about then Charley Skinner shows up.
Will calls for everyone necessary to head back to his office after hearing what Neal had to say. That means Will, Jim, Mackenzie, Don, and Charlie. Neil is excited but he demands to know who Jim Harper’s sources are. Mackenzie says to Jim: If you want Will to trust you, then you have to trust him.
Will’s source at BP is an old college roommate who is high enough on the BP food chain to be in on the meeting about the spill. His source at Halliburton is his big sister who has a PHD in Engineering. Will remarks about how lucky it is that Jim has two sources that called him in five minutes.
Don’s not done yet. He warns Will that if he’s wrong, this fiasco will headline his bio for the rest of his life. He warns Jim Harper that if he accuses Halliburton of negligence and he (and his source) are wrong. Halliburton will sue and win. And they will own Harper forever. Will’s face is sparkling. He’s a newsman, and despite being a bully, a blowhard, and bull-headed, he knows his business. He says, Let’s go for it. Don puts out his final warning – it’s just a search mission and a cleanup.
Will says, if Don’s against it, that’s why I’ll do it!
Charlie says, Atta boy! [with a fist pumping action]
Okay boys and girls – we are now off to the races. There’s now about 20 minutes left. The opening Episode timed out at 73 minutes. But you can see the meticulously planning it took to bring us to this point. The last twenty minutes will be a race against time – stories have to be written, interviews set up and the interviewees have to be properly wired into the broadcast, video prompters loaded with text – everything measured into exact minutes and seconds.
The pace is breakneck. And don’t blink or you’ll miss something. There’s no point in recapping each and every one of these actions. Not necessary because we all know that it was indeed, the biggest ecological disaster in the history of the world.
What I found to be brilliant was how it all fit together dramatically for TV. Not the real thing but this show. Sorkin knows his business, inside and out, and he can write with the best of them, if not simply the best.
He’s capable of preaching here and there, and some of the speeches ran a little long. But the overall assembly of the parts of this show were just fabulous. Jeff Daniels hits all the high notes that will absolutely rub you the wrong way. Emily Mortimer will have you in her pocket about three minutes after we’ve met her.
You’ll root for Jim Harper, and Maggie Jordan. You’ll almost hiss at Don, the outgoing ExP. Old veteran Sam Waterston does his best as the cagey and wise newsman sitting atop the news Division at ACN. He’s filled with war stories from Vietnam, and an inspiring amount of confidence in the team that he assembled. Yes, that’s right. It was all his doing. Bringing in Mackenzie, pointing Don at another show (the 10:00 o’clock news), and all the internal motion was because he believed in the news, in Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy, and that he bought into the opportunity to give Mackenzie McHale the ExP job to float McAvoy’s ship once more.
Simply, I thought this opening episode was brilliant.