Although it’s hardly an act of corporate synergy, the ongoing struggles of CNN, Time Warner’s cable news network, are the best thing going for “The Newsroom,” the much-debated drama on Time Warner’s pay channel, HBO.
Series creator Aaron Sorkin has stressed his program is not a referendum on any one part of or real-life parallels in cable news. Yet the ongoing struggles of CNN — and efforts to “fix” the channel, starting with its ratings — prompted Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes to say the following to analysts, as the New York Times reported: “We think there’s a very strong demand for objective, comprehensive, nonpartisan coverage. But we need to do it in a very compelling, more engaging way than we’ve been doing of late.”
Unfortunately, many of the attempts to make CNN more “engaging” have included nonsensical flourishes like holograms, its “magic wall” and soliciting Twitter comments from people who aren’t necessarily representative of much of anything. The channel’s anchors are also uneven in terms of challenging politicians who outright lie and distort, which is one of Sorkin’s most obvious pet peeves.
Sorkin’s show — however annoying it might be — consistently argues for smarter, tougher and more honest reporting, amid the commercial pressures associated with TV news. In that context, watching how CNN handles its “objective, comprehensive, nonpartisan coverage” ought to provide “The Newsroom” ample fodder and real-world resonance as it heads into its second season.
That said, I think Sorkin’s making a big mistake in not fixing one part of his show that could easily be amended by bringing it into the present, instead of continuing to look back on, and replay, recent headlines. The writer told reporters the series will continue to lag behind current events in order to chronicle them, as opposed to creating new ones.
Holding a mirror up to reality — as opposed to outright replicating it — worked pretty well for “The West Wing,” which, as I recall, was both engaging and compelling.