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Sorkin sets the record straight at ‘Newsroom’ panel

Writer-creator denies male bias, firing of scribes at TCA session

HBO’s TCA panel for “The Newsroom” was weighted with anticipation Wednesday as critics and show creator Aaron Sorkin sparred verbally over the show’s point of view and behind-the-scenes doings.

Sorkin was quick to deny that he had fired the writing staff on the HBO drama. To clarify, he said a couple of writing assistants were promoted and that the show will hire paid consultants for the run-up to season two.

Several critics pointed out that the female characters — specifically Emily Mortimer’s supposedly hardened news producer Mackenzie MacHale — are too often mistake-prone or empty-headed while the men’s foibles are more regularly glossed over.

“I completely respect that opinion but 100% disagree with it,” Sorkin said. “Females on the show are equals of the men. They are not just talked about as being good at their job, they are plainly good at their job.”

Star Jeff Daniels said he was undeterred by criticism — not just of “The Newsroom” but of any of the projects in which he’s participated over a four-decade career. “I completely get why you do what you do, but you don’t do it for me,” Daniels told the journos assembled in the ballroom of the BevHilton. “It took me a long time as an actor to stop reading you.”

Exec producer Alan Poul added that he and Sorkin sat with several broadcast journalists prior to the show’s launch to get a sense of how a network handles a big story break.

“What we have found is the compulsion to be first trumps the compulsion to be right,” Poul said, adding that if the news biz needs to be tweaked, reversing that trend should be its top priority.

Sorkin said HBO had considered canceling the panel but that he insisted they go forward with it and that he was happy meeting his detractors face to face.

“We all know there were critics who did not enjoy watching the first four episodes, and there were critics that did,” he said. “You prefer the praise of a show be universal but if they are talking this much about a television show, it’s good for television.”

Sorkin admitted, though, that negative opinions resonate more with him than positive ones.

“I’m easily knocked around by the voices of other people,” he said. “If 99 people like something and 1 person doesn’t, I’ll ignore those 99 and try to change that one person’s opinion. I have to be very careful going forward. When I start writing the second season, I have to write the way I write, not to change peoples minds.”

Sorkin also took a moment to reflect on the show’s reception outside the U.S. media bubble, noting that the “Twitter frenzy in China about the show is completely different than the Twitter frenzy here. When they see the show they can’t get over the free press.”

Sorkin also added that the format of retracing past historic events would continue in season two, which, according to the scribe, would launch in June 2013.

(AJ Marechal contributed to this report.)

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