Sorkin, who created the Emmy Award–winning political drama The West Wing, had reportedly been developing a cable-news-centered TV drama since 2009. After months of negotiations, premium cable network HBO ordered a pilot in January 2011 and then a full series in September that year. Sorkin did his research for the series by observing several real-world cable news programs first-hand. He serves as executive producer, along with Scott Rudin and Alan Poul.
On January 13, 2014, HBO officially confirmed the series had been renewed for a third and final season consisting of six episodes, which premiered on November 9, 2014.
The series is set behind the scenes at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) and centers around anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), his new executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), newsroom staff Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.), Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) and the head of Atlantis Cable News (ACN), Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston).
Cast and characters
Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy: the anchor and managing editor of News Night. His world is turned upside down when his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie re-enters his life.
Emily Mortimer as MacKenzie McHale: News Night 's new executive producer and Will's ex-girlfriend, returning from 26 months as an embedded journalist overseas.
John Gallagher, Jr. as Jim Harper: senior producer who followed Mackenzie to News Night. At his new job, he develops feelings for Maggie.
Alison Pill as Maggie Jordan: an eager, young associate producer of News Night. She has complicated personal relationships with Don and Jim. Formerly Will's personal assistant.
Thomas Sadoski as Don Keefer: News Night 's former executive producer who leaves for the new program on the network, Right Now with Elliot Hirsch.
Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith: a double PhD economist with an economic news segment on Will's show. Sloan is attractive but socially awkward, creating uncomfortable situations for herself and others.
Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner: Atlantis Cable News (ACN) president and former US Marine.
David Krumholtz as Dr. Jacob Habib: Will's current therapist, who is the son of Will's original therapist.
Paul Schneider as Brian Brenner: a writer for New York magazine whom Will hires for an all-access profile; MacKenzie cheated on Will with Brian during the first four months of her relationship with Will.
Riley Voelkel as Jennifer Johnson: the "sorority girl" whom Will directed the "Greatest Country in the World" rant at, who was then hired as an intern by MacKenzie in the final episode of Season 1.
John F. Carpenter as Herb Wilson: the control room head for News Night.
Trieu Tran as Joey Phan: the graphics producer for News Night.
To research the cable news world, Sorkin had been an off-camera guest at MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann in 2010 to observe the show's production and quizzed Parker Spitzer 's staff when he was a guest on that show. He also spent time shadowing Hardball with Chris Matthews as well as other programs on Fox News Channel and CNN. Sorkin told TV Guide that he intended to take a less cynical view of the media: "They're going to be trying to do well in a context where it's very difficult to do well when there are commercial concerns and political concerns and corporate concerns." Sorkin decided that rather than have his characters react to fictional news events as on his earlier series, The Newsroom would be set in the recent past and track real-world stories largely as they unfolded, to give a greater sense of realism.
On September 8, 2011, HBO ordered a full series starting with an initial 10-episode run with a premiere date set for summer 2012. A day after the second episode aired, HBO renewed the series for a second season.
Sorkin said in June 2012 that The Newsroom "is meant to be an idealistic, romantic, swashbuckling, sometimes comedic but very optimistic, upward-looking look at a group of people who are often looked at cynically. The same as with The West Wing, where ordinarily in popular culture our leaders are portrayed either as Machiavellian or dumb; I wanted to do something different and show a highly competent group of people."
While the pilot was in development, the project was tentatively titled More as This Story Develops. On November 29, 2011, HBO filed for a trademark on "The Newsroom" with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The new name immediately drew comparisons with the Ken Finkleman-created Canadian comedy series of the same name that aired on CBC and public television stations in the U.S. The series' name was confirmed as The Newsroom in an HBO promo released on December 21, 2011, previewing its programs for 2012.
Writing in Maclean's, Jaime Weinman said the choice of name was "a bit of a grimly amusing reminder that the U.S. TV industry doesn't take Canada very seriously ... The Newsroom is often considered the greatest show Canada has ever produced, but a U.S. network feels no need to fear unflattering comparisons: assuming they've heard of the show, they probably think most people in the States have not heard of it." In an interview with The Daily Beast following the Sorkin show's premiere, Finkleman revealed that HBO did contact him for permission to reuse the title, which he granted.
New York magazine reported that Sorkin had planned for MSNBC host Chris Matthews and Andrew Breitbart to appear in a roundtable debate scene in the pilot. However, the idea was shot down by MSNBC purportedly because the network was displeased with the corporate culture portrayal of cable news and skewering of left-leaning media in the show's script. Chris Matthews' son, Thomas, joined the cast in the role of Martin Stallworth, an associate producer for the fictional show.
Rosemarie DeWitt was originally cast as Rebecca Halliday, a litigator who is tasked with defending the ACN in a wrongful termination suit in the second season, but DeWitt had to vacate the role due to scheduling conflicts. The role was recast with Marcia Gay Harden.Patton Oswalt was announced to play Jonas Pfeiffer, the new V.P. of human resources at ACN, in November 2012, but he ultimately did not appear in the season.
The Newsroom 's set is located in Sunset Gower Studios, Hollywood, on Stage 7. The fictional Atlantis World Media building, however, is actually the Bank of America Tower on Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan (directly across the street from HBO's New York City offices), with CGI being used to change the name of the building above the entrance. Production began in the fall of 2011. The schedule called for each episode—comprising a dialogue-dense script of 80 to 90 pages – to be filmed in nine days, as opposed to six to seven pages per day for broadcast network TV series. The pilot episode was shot in 16 mm film while the rest of the series was shot digitally on Arri Alexa cameras.
With fewer than 10 credited writers, The Newsroom has fewer writers than most other television series. It was reported that Sorkin planned to replace most of the first season's writers in the second season. He later said this was untrue. Sorkin explained his approach to writing:
I create these shows so that I can write them. I'm not an empire builder. I'm not interested in just producing. All I want to do is write. I came up as a playwright—writing is something you do by yourself in a room. That said, I couldn't possibly write the show without that room full of people. I go in there, and we kick around ideas. I'm writing about all kinds of things I don't know anything about. So they do research for me.
Sorkin hired conservative media consultants for the second season to help him represent "every part of the ideological spectrum," thus giving the show "a political perspective that I [Sorkin] don't have." Sorkin also revealed that the second season would include the 2012 United States presidential election.
In Season 1 each episode is built around a major news event from the recent past, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or the killing of Osama Bin Laden. This acts as a background for the interpersonal drama, as well as providing a sense of familiarity, as the audience is likely to know the context and so not require too much explanation of events. Sorkin has said the news events on the show "will always be real", which, for him, "became a kind of creative gift. For one thing, the audience knows more than the characters do, which is kind of fun. And it gives me the chance to have the characters be smarter than we were." However, he has also said "[i]t is a romanticised, idealised newsroom, a sort of a heightened newsroom – it is not meant to be a documentary."
The second season features a story arc in which the News Night team has reported, and been forced to retract, a false news story about the United States Marine Corps using sarin gas during the war in Afghanistan in 2009. This story is based on a real-life news scandal from 1998, in which CNN and TIME were both criticized for reporting a dubious and unreliably sourced story that the United States had used sarin during the Operation Tailwind excursion in the Vietnam War.
The Newsroom premiered in the United States on HBO on June 24, 2012. It was watched by 2.1 million viewers, making it one of HBO's most-watched series premieres since 2008. The first episode was made available free to all viewers on multiple platforms, including HBO.com, iTunes, YouTube, and other free on-demand services.
The show airs simultaneously on HBO Canada. It premiered on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and Ireland on July 10, 2012, two weeks after its U.S. debut. In Germany and Austria The Newsroom premiered on Sky's video-on-demand service Sky Go one day after the U.S. premiere on June 25, 2012, and Sky Anytime one day later.HBO Europe also began airing the show in all twelve countries with appropriate subtitles one day after the U.S. premiere. The show premiered in New Zealand on August 13, 2012, on SKY NZ's SoHo channel. The show debuted in Australia on the SoHo channel on August 20, 2012.HBO Bulgaria started to air the show with Bulgarian subtitles on June 25, 2012. In India, the show premiered on HBO Defined on May 21, 2013, and season 2 premiered on July 30, 2013, with episodes airing two weeks after the U.S. premiere.
Critical reaction to the series in its first season was mixed. The show's second and third seasons saw more positive responses from reviewers.
The first season scored 57 out of 100 based on reviews from 31 critics, on review aggregator Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter writes that how viewers respond to the show "has everything to do with whether you like his style. Because ... Sorkin is always true to himself and doesn't try to cover his tendencies or be embarrassed by them." Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times commented that "at its best ... The Newsroom has a wit, sophistication and manic energy.... But at its worst, the show chokes on its own sanctimony."Time 's James Poniewozik criticized the show for being "smug" and "intellectually self-serving," with "Aaron Sorkin writing one argument after another for himself to win."Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara said the show's drama is "weighted too heavily toward sermonizing diatribes."
Reviews by newscasters have been mixed as well. Jake Tapper, then of ABC News, criticized Sorkin's partisanship: "they extol the Fourth Estate's democratic duty, but they believe that responsibility consists mostly of criticizing Republicans."Dave Marash was not convinced that the show portrays the news industry accurately. On August 1, 2012, Sorkin responded to critics by including news consultants with newsroom experience. Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather gave the pilot a favorable review, saying the show "has the potential to become a classic."
The second season received generally favorable reviews. It has a score of 66 out of 100 based on reviews from 20 critics, from review aggregation website Metacritic.
In an early review of season 2, Verne Gay of Newsday called it: "Edgier, more sharply drawn, while that Sorkian chatter remains at a very high boil." Oscar Moralde of Slant Magazine noted what he referred to as the show's "grandiloquent speechifying," but praised Olivia Munn calling her "a joy to watch" and concluded that "season two of The Newsroom salvages the promise of becoming something urgent and vital." Brian Lowry of Variety, in a negative review, said: "Ultimately, one needn’t be a purveyor of snark to view The Newsroom as a disappointment—too smart to be dismissed, but so abrasive as to feel like Media Lectures for Dummies." Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club gave Season 2 an overall "B-" grade.