TCA: Aaron Sorkin and the scoop on ‘The Newsroom’

This post has been corrected. Please see note at bottom for details.

A lot unfolds in the remaining episodes of “The Newsroom”: The Casey Anthony case gets explored; the whole Anthony Weiner Twitter-gate fiasco gets the Aaron Sorkin treatment; the man with whom Mackenzie cheated on Will makes a return; the Maggie-Don love triangle gets more thorny; and there’s a major firing.

Things got equally unwieldy when Sorkin, the show’s creator and executive producer, took the stage Wednesday at the Television Critics Assn. media tour, alongside Jeff Daniels and executive producer Alan Poul. The hour saw Sorkin defending his portrayals of female characters, commenting on naysayers and giving a hand slap to news outlets reporting on the show’s staffing changes.


Here’s what went down:

--On critics: The show, which has averaged about 2 million viewers per episode since its late-June debut, hasn’t exactly been a critical darling. “We all know that there were critics who did not enjoy watching the first four episodes,” Sorkin said. “And there were critics that did. Obviously, you prefer praise for the show to be unanimous.” The 51-year-old Academy Award- and Emmy-winning screenwriter when on to add that one of the benefits of doing a show for HBO is “the entire season is locked in the can before the first episode airs,” so that even if you’re tempted to change things to please people, “you can’t do it. The season is done.”

--Responding to criticisms that the show has a “women problem”: “I completely respect that opinion,” Sorkin said. But I 100 percent disagree with it. I think the female characters are every bit the equals of the men.” He added he worked hard to establish that the women have qualities showing that they “care about others, reach high, are thoughtful, curious. ...” Because “once you have those things down, you can have them slip on as many banana peels as you want.”

Daniels said one of the things he admires about Sorkin’s writing is that the characters “all have flaws.” Sorkin later elaborated on that point: “We present Will’s mission to civilize as something everyone rolls their eyes at and something that always blows up in his face. Hubris in this show is always punished. Men and women screw up in the same way.” To underline his point, Sorkin pointed to last week’s episode in which Maggie (Alison Pill) mistook Georgia the state for Georgia the country while Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) mixed up the pole where penguins live.

--On whether Sorkin’s ideology gets infused into the characters: “I want to make a clear distinction between me and the characters that are on the show,” Sorkin said. “I, most of the time, write about things I actually don’t know very much about ... political opinions that I have are at the level of sophistication of someone with a BFA in musical theater. I use the same system. I get pumped full of information from people who know what they’re talking about ... so I can write an episode.”

--Real news vs. fake news: “I did not do it so I could leverage hindsight into making our characters smarter at stuff,” Sorkin said. “I know from time to time it seemed that way.” The show will always be 12-18 months behind the current news cycle, he added.

--Personnel changes: Sorkin, at one point, wanted to clear up reports that the “Newsroom” writing staffers were given the pink slip. “A couple of weeks ago an unsourced and untrue story appeared in the Internet that then got picked up: The writing staff was not fired. Just seeing that in print is scaring the hell out of the writing staff,” he said. “They’re acting very strange -- they’re coming to work early. ... I love the writing staff -- I thought that we did great this year, and it’s a fantastic group to work with. We had a ball. A couple of staffing changes were made that included promoting our two writers assistants to story editors, but the writing staff hasn’t been fired; I’m looking forward to coming back to work with them soon.” As for reports concerning Corinne Kingsbury, a staff writer on the show, Sorkin said: “She was identified as my ex-girlfriend -- she is not.”

Paid consultants from television, print and online media will also be added to the show’s staff for the second season, Sorkin said.

For the record, 11:24 a.m. August 2: The post originally quoted Sorkin as saying he was “pimped full of information” instead of “pumped.”

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