Big Time ***SPOILER ALERTS*** You’ve been warned.
The Newsroom, Episode One, ended with a grand uptick. The big story in the news which McAvoy and his ACN News Night cohorts opened their broadcast with was the Oil Rig Explosion off the coast of Louisiana. This was the story that the other news networks used to close their shows. In the old days of newspapers – that would have been called a scoop.
I’ve no idea what will come next, besides Olivia Munn‘s entrance as the ACN Network’s financial analyst, Sloan Sabbith. She’ll be the compulsory eye-candy, possibly a love interest for Will McAvoy, and beyond that, I can’t guess. The production notes tell us that she could be making lots more money if she worked at one those giant financial services firms, like Goldman Sachs. But she’s a reporter at heart, so she’s working at ACN.
An appearance by Jane Fonda, who might be the majority stockholder or CEO of the network, is also on the ‘guess’ list. It is only approaching 8:00 PM here on Florida’s west coast, so I’ve got to wait a few more hours for the broadcast. And so ends this, our first intro.
As 10:00 happened here in Sarasota, at least a few million folks across the country were watching what I was watching – The Newsroom Episode 2 called News Night 2.0. I think we need a reminder of what happened near the end last week. As Will McAvoy said to Charlie Skinner: “You didn’t bring her in to right the Ship. You brought her in to build a new one.”
I’m going to use that nautical reference and turn my own ship around so I am in position to fire a broadside shot of my own, or said differently, I’ll lead with a salvo of my own. The opening half of the show was simply a shipwreck. Every scene, and every discussion, and every argument went on far too long. Especially the ones with Reese (the ratings guy).
Even the prep session with Jim Harper and Maggie Jordan droned on forever. While I love Sorkin’s wordsmith capabilities – his pedal to metal approach did grate, at least in the first half hour. The second half was better – at least partially because Will’s news broadcast itself was so fucked up. But Newsroom (the show itself not the news broadcast) did make something of a recovery in the last 10 minutes or so. Hence the overall rating for this episode is a barely achieved C Minus and I hope they can do better. In fact I’m insisting on it as a viewer.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I hear your voices, “Where’s our recap?
Sometimes you get a good indication of what’s ahead from the first thing you see. There’s Will sitting at his table in his high-floor apartment with the wrap-around floor to ceiling glass windows with the great city views. He’s going over the resumé of each of Mackenzie’s people. He’s all about learning their names. Suddenly a hefty chunk of the ceiling crashes down. Literally. Jesus! Will might have been flattened. What the fuck? His housekeeper points upward with one finger. ‘Your new neighbors.’ Oh. Really?
Will arrives at work and heads right for Mackenzie’s office. The first topic from Mackenzie is that tonight they won’t be leading with the latest about the spill. Will is also concerned about their breakup. He doesn’t want anyone to know anything about it. Mackenzie agrees and pointedly plays dumb with Will about that until he says, Let’s go. They head out for the pitch meeting. This is where the staff and Mack and Will decide what news they’ll cover in that day’s broadcast. On the way to the pitch meeting we get this exchange:
Will: I wanna go on record by saying that we should open with the spill.
Will: We’ll open with the spill?
Mack: No, but you’re on record as saying you think we should…
Will: The spill is all everyone’s talking about…
Mack: Because we’re the ones telling them to…we’re still reporting on it, just not at the top
[JMM: I liked it even though it wasn't a new concept. A conversation in motion. You know - walking and talking at the same time. There's no need to rush out to alert the media on this.]
Will: I‘m looking at film of the oil rig sinking into the ocean. That’s pretty good television.
Mack: We don’t do good television. We do the news!
That last one out of Mack was perfect. At least that brought them to the conference room rather quickly and we avoided a static elevator scene. Upon entrance, Mackenzie announces to the assembled staff, “Welcome to the 1st ever pitch meeting of News Night 2.0.”
[JMM: This was a rather painless way for them to get the Episode title into play verbally - even though we'd already seen it visually on a title card which was the last image of the intro credits.]
So we follow Mack and Will into the conference room. This particular scene will reveal itself as an incredibly neat bit of editing as various people speak and the camera finds them in a semblance of coherence. However, the actual meat and potatoes of the scene are far less substantial.
Mack welcomes them all to the meeting that sets up the daily schedule: At 11:00 we hear the pitches, by 4:00 the show begins to look like a show, and at 6:00, we lock it in. Just then Will interrupts to announce that he’s learned everyone’s names last night. Mack doesn’t quite ignore this but she steams forward:
Mack: [re Will's announcement] A huge step in the right direction. [She switches gears] We’ll be opening tonight with SB 1070, the Arizona immigration bill – which Will supports by the way – You all thought he was a closet liberal, when really he’s a closet moron. Will interrupts again – like a cuckoo clock - I’m not a closet anything, but seriously I’ve learned how to pronounce everyone’s name – stayed up half the night to do it. Then to demonstrate his prowess, he rattles off the first of the three most tricky names. But none of them are employed on News Night anymore. Maybe Will didn’t get the latest staff changes memo. Either way, his self-congratulatory interruption was meant to show that Will is far from as perfect as he thinks he is.
Before launching the topics Mack is reminded to discuss the new email enhancements – asterisks for group emails and auto-complete for specific names. Only Mack doesn’t know what auto complete means. Who does? Why that would be Neal. Didn’t they go to great lengths last week to make sure we knew that Neal wasn’t the IT. Now, first chance they get – they toss him straight into the function. I call it sloppy writing Mr. Sorkin.
But it gets worse. Mackenzie says she gets it and to demonstrate, she will send an email to Will. Only it takes too long – I’m typing it, I’m typing it, I’m typing it and now I’m sending it. Only instead of sending it to Will – she sends it to everyone. That wasn’t funny and it was put in just to lay the foundation for the same mistake to be made later on in the show on a much grander scale.
It also weakens Mack’s character – she’s the super Exec Producer of a network news show and yet, she can’t even do an email correctly. To further the point, Mack turns to unveil her pride and joy – the show’s credo in words written on a board, and knocks the thing right off the easel. What’s next – farts and banana jokes?
Well, back to the credo. While Pat Riley of the Heat, the Knicks, and the Lakers has told us many times that there’s no ‘I’ in the word team, Mack goes in the opposite direction. Her hand crafted credo for the show can be simplified down to the Three I’s:
But before that, upstairs, Charlie Skinner has a meeting with Reese, the ratings guy. Seems that Charlie knows that Reese and Will have a secret meeting to talk rating numbers every week. Reese claims that this is driven by Will. Charlie says, Don’t have those meeting anymore. We’re trying something new. We want a news show that is driven by content rather than ratings. Reese says that Will McAvoy is the biggest ratings whore in the business. Charlie says, If you call Will a whore again, I’ll take out your teeth – one punch at a time. This too was a foreshadowing. We’ll have Reese and Will discussing ratings anyway – despite Charlie’s request.
Back downstairs, Mack unveils the new rules or the credo for any possible future news item:
1) Is this information we need in the voting booth
2) Is this the best possible form of the argument
3) Is the story in historical context
A mnemonic device. I – I – I, The three I’s. They talk about the spill, about SB 1070, about possible guests on the show. In Mack’s vision – ‘The news show is a courtroom, and Will is the attorney for both sides. We only interview ‘expert’ witnesses. You’ll be amazed at the quality of the guests we’ll book once they understand how the show will work.’ This segment is quite revealing – all of which once again weakens Mack’s character. She doesn’t want to put on a story about an immigrant who the state of Washington screwed by revoking his driver’s license because it became known that he was an illegal. He needs the licence to drive to his job and to drive his kids to school.
Mackenzie says, ‘We’ve only got 42 minutes and there’s no time – and besides that it would be manipulative as we would be putting him on so everyone would feel sorry for him‘. Neal says, ‘We should feel sorry for him – he’s being screwed by the state.’
Whatever your views about immigration, this scene went on too long, did nothing for Mackenzie except to make her technically inept and then seem cold-hearted. Under Mack’s guidance, the story of this immigrant from Spokane, Washington doesn’t fit her concept of the news because it is too much of a story with a strong human element to it. She says we can’t air too much of that. Mack has clearly dropped the ball, thereby fumbling away a good opportunity
Cut to Sloan Sabbith delivering her financial news report. Olivia Munn, as Sloan seems to be speaking far too rapidly during the broadcast – but that’s neither here nor there. We do get this visual intro to her.
Mack and Don have a quick chat. Don doesn’t like the way Will is treating him both publicly and privately. Mack won’t air some of the ‘popular’ segments that Don likes. She says you can do them on your 10:00 O’clock show.
Cut to a lengthy scene between Jim Harper and Maggie Jordan. Harper thinks she needs some prepping/supervision about contacting the Governor of Arizona’s office with the pre-interview for the governor’s appearance that evening.Maggie doesn’t agree. Three and half minutes of rapid fire dialogue between Harper and Jordan follow. Both of the actors, John Gallagher Jr. and Alison Pill, do great. But I started to drift. Maybe these weren’t the right folks for another Sorkin sermon. Or maybe they were the right people but at the wrong time. Or maybe it was just too long, or too fast. Maybe all of the above.
Next Sabbith finishes her broadcast segment and Mack steps up to introduce herself. They go into Mack’s office. Some small talk – Sabbith says despite my looks I am an economist and then Mack says – I want you to do five minutes every night – to tell us where we are [financially]. Wow. Sabbith says, I’m not qualified. I could put you in touch with some folks I studied under. Mack says I don’t want someone who looks like George Bernard Shaw. I want you and your legs.
Sabbith gets it. You want me to pole dance while delivering the financial news. Yeah, something like that. Which leads to more small talk. Mack says I hope we can be friends. Sabbith says I’d like that. Mack says I have no friends. Sabbith says we have something in common, Which leads to the big reveal. Sabbith and everyone in the office, in short, the whole staff thinks that Will cheated on Mack, and that he’s an ass. Sabbith says she had a similar event in her life – in the week before her wedding.
Now Mack spends a long and agonizing amount of time explaining that that’s not the way it happened… and Will’s not an ass … and I was the one who cheated. Sabbith, clearly uncomfortable about this revelation, now needs to escape and quickly. Mack is having a meltdown. Mack unravels – Will this, Will that – but I can’t tell you any details but I need you to go out and tell each and every person…will you do that? Sabbith: Every chance I get. Mack: [realizing she's crossed boundaries between folks who've just met], You wont do it? Sabbith: No.
What Sorkin has done – for the third time – in just the first half of this episode is to undercut Mackenzie McHale. We thought she was this terrific Exec Producer. The one who could stand up to Will McAvoy, the one who Charlie Skinner has invested in, the one who would be able to build News Night 2.0 and lead it to the promised land.
Only she can’t manage to send an email, she’s a bit of clutz, and most importantly – she’s living and dying about what people think of Will McAvoy. We all thought she was better than what we’ve seen tonight.
Next is Will and Reese having that secret meeting. The one that Charlie had discussed with Reese, and gave specific instructions to Reese to not discuss ratings with Will. This one was far too long and unnecessary except to establish that Will thinks Mackenzie is an ace news producer. Of course this is just after Mack’s meltdown. To Sorkin – which way are you going? Looks to me like you’re going for two opposite directions at the same time.
Back in the news room, Harper announces to Maggie that the Arizona governor has bailed on them. Just 90 minutes before the show is to air. Did you have anything to with it? Well yes, she did. It seems that Maggie dated this Glenn Fischer in college, and he’s now the Governor’s spokesperson. Maggie related a long convoluted story – which she did breathlessly – and which I’ll just gloss over. In short, Maggie and Fischer had a history, and that’s why they waited so long to bail. A disaster for Maggie.
This scene was scripted for rapid fire just like their earlier one. As I said last week – you’ve got to pay strict attention. Anyway the long and the short of it is that they now don’t have any one to articulate the positives of SB 1070.
JMM: Oh my. But you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Mack walks in and Harper tells her they just lost Jan Brewer, The Arizona Governor. Mack wants to know why. Harper says that he was the responsible party, that he had the argument with Glenn Fischer, and that was why their show just got screwed. Harper is protecting Maggie. He’s the senior producer so it is his fault. Maggie tries to refute all this, but Harper cuts her off at every turn.
Mack says we’ve got to get some alternates. If we leave the support side out, they’ll say we were one-sided. The alternates are a wacky professor from an internet college, the second runner-up in the Miss America pageant who lost the Miss America title because of her views on immigration, and a former Arizona Highway Patrolman who would offer his opinion only if he could hold on to his rifle which is called Jenny while expressing himself.
They’re really stuck. Maggie is worried. She asks if Will will fire someone over this. Mack rises up and defends Will - he won’t, he won’t – then with Sabbith’s conversation still playing in her head, Mack says, Are people here under the impression that Will is an ass?
Whoa. Talk about catching everyone by surprise. Mack decides to send an email to Sloan Sabbith. She discloses that she was the one that cheated on Will rather the other way around. Of course, as expected, Mack sends it the entire staff. JMM: Oh no.
Mack’s meltdown continues. She smashes Gary’s phone before he can open the email. She even pours hot coffee on the pieces. Just as she’s asking everyone to delete the email, without reading it, on the honor system – and someone should sneak into Will’s office and delete the email, and if it is password protected – to take a baseball bat and smash …
JMM: You knew Will would walk in just then didn’t you?
At first Will is calm and controlled. He replays (in front of everyone) the conversation that he and Mack had that very morning in her office. The one where he asked her to promise that she’d be sure that no one would ever know the full details of their breakup. Will: I felt sure that you understood what I was asking. I felt that you knew with a certainty that this had to be between us and only us.
Will [cool and collected]: You know when something happens, that is so astounding that you just shut down [pauses] Well, [suddenly in a violent rage] that never fucking happens to me!!!!
To say that he was hopping mad – would have been a gross understatement. Mack tries to explain, but seems to not be doing all that well. Some one on staff says, ‘I was trying to delete the email but I think I just sent it to Corporate…‘
Will is ready to kill someone. Will and Mack head into his office. Mack gives a long speech about the who, the when, where, and why of their breakup three years ago. It’s not particularly important – those details – but Sorkin wanted us to have them so we would know, and that Will would know, and so he could end the scene neatly.
Will: Why did you tell me…
Mack: I couldn’t live with it – I couldn’t live with the dishonesty…
Will: Now I have to live with it.
Just then, Harper interrupts, there’s no more time to waste. We’ve got to do the final run-down. Show time is near.
Thanks Harper. I really don’t think any of us wanted any more of this personal side of our lead characters today. It could not have been any worse, or more painful to watch. I liked the anger displayed by Jeff Daniels as Will. I hated Mackenzie’s numerous meltdowns.
Then again, as I suggested at the top of this recap. Last week’s success would lead directly into this week’s news broadcast failures. The wacko professor, the Miss America wanna-be, the rifle toting Arizona Highway Patrolman all crashed and burned despite Will’s best efforts. Once it started, Mack wanted to dump out of it …
but Will pushed ahead. After the break, Will initiated a segment that he had made that he had arranged to have ready. It was a look at some of Sarah Palin‘s malaprops. It was supposed to light, funny and at the same time, the thought was that this not so reverential look at Palin would be well received. Only it went over as another lead balloon, and Will himself misspoke during the segment.
In short – as far as The Newsroom’s news broadcast this week, it was an unmitigated disaster. We needn’t get any further into the details, but it could be best described in the following way. Thanks to former New York Knicks professional basketball player Micheal Ray Richardson, who first uttered these words 30 years ago. When asked about the state of the team, Richardson said, “The ship be sinking.”
When he was further asked about how far the ship would sink, Richardson said, “The sky’s the limit.”
But when the broadcast was over, there was still 12 minutes of Episode 2 remaining. That’s more than enough time for Will to go up to Charlie Skinner’s office to apologize for the horrid broadcast. ‘Get it together down there‘ said Charlie. “And by the way, no more meetings with Reese about the ratings.“
Will: “With all due respect Charlie, I’m the one sitting in that chair“, and off he goes. He heads downstairs. There’s still more than enough time for Will and Mack to have another set piece. This time Mack has her shit together. “Are you in or are you out?“, she asks Will.
They dance around the various problems like …
Mack: ‘When I say dump out, you dump out‘
Like the Palin bit.
Mack: You didn’t ask me because you knew I’d say no.
Will: I don’t have to ask – I’m the Executive Editor.
Mack: Oh yes you do – I’m the Executive Producer.
Mack mimics Will’s performance during that segment.
Will: As far as the impression – uncanny. But I’m not the one who asked Miss Victoria’s Secret to do a 5 minute segment on the economy every night.
Mack: Miss Victoria’s Secret has a PH.D. in Economics from Duke, and she’s an Adjunct Professor at Columbia. Are you in or are you out?
But they’re not done. Will wants to know about the snafu that resulted in them not having the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on the show. Mack won’t go down that road. Instead she says – Yeah, we fucked up. But it was a mistake. It didn’t happen out of fear – [the unstated references is to Will and his concern about the ratings.]
“So are you in or are you out?” Mack leaves Will standing there. He’s dumbstruck. He can’t believe he just got his ass chewed out. He even says that out loud – only the entire newsroom is empty – so no one hears his words. They’ve all headed out to the karaoke bar down the street.
Of course that means more Don and Maggie who is three sheets to the wind after less than one drink
- will they break up, did it just happen or did’nt they? More Jim and Maggie. Then finally a phone call from Will to Mack.
So that is it for Episode 2 of The Newsroom. I got two out of three right. Yes, we did meet Olivia Munn’s Sloan Sabbith. That was a good thing. And yes, the newscast crashed and burned – but that was in the cards, and the only way to go for this Episode. Finally, there was no Jane Fonda sighting as yet.
Looking forward to Episode Three and hoping for an uptick.