Dan Rather is reviewing HBO's The Newsroom for Gawker throughout the show's first season.
This show just keeps on keeping on…getting better. Sunday night's episode 4 is a stone-cold—no, a heart-warming—winner. After last week, episode 3, I had my doubts that they could ever do an installment as good, much less better. Now, I'm left to wonder.
The writers and actors portray a real newsroom, and real newsroom situations with stunning accuracy, authenticity and authority. To a degree I would not have thought possible. They get to the innards, the core, of the craft and the business that is television news better than anything ever before brought to the screen. They are able to portray the joy of journalism and the passion for the craft that most journalists worthy of the name experience, as well as the harsh—oft times brutal—realities of the business side. They mix in the real-time, real-life dilemmas and challenges of present day big time television newscasting. The corporatization, politicalization and trivialization of the news that has grown so dramatically in the last 25 years or so is laid bare here.
Especially in this latest episode, the script is tight and meaty, the dialogue is crisp (with this program you must listen closely) and the narrative moves along at a good pace. They are good storytellers, these writers. The acting throughout is superb. Sam Waterston, in the role of news division president, is flat-out masterful. There is one scene in this chapter where Waterston says more with just a look than most actors can do with a speech.
Among the issues dealt with in this episode: The fact that we journalists are reluctant to call lies… lies (and thus seldom if ever do.) How anchor persons deal, and don't deal, with the celebrity aspects of their jobs. What an ego-centric job anchoring is. Office romances, especially among young staffers. And the dangers of going on the air in the early stages of big, breaking news with early reports and rumors, even when your competition is running hard with them; the gut-checks demanded by the pressure of such situations.
Things I especially liked (and know to be true based on my own experience): How a newsroom springs to life when a big breaking story hits. (The example they used is the Giffords shooting in Arizona.) How it's nearly always true that some good reporter gets fixated on some "way out" story (The example for this is the "Big Foot" story that won't die.) The sleepless nights of anchormen (and women), who, if they are any good, have more of them than most people—sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for trivial ones.
Best quote out of this episode: "Washington is here to serve the banks."
One small nit: the anchorman smokes in a scene. No anchorman or woman I know of smokes, and I don't think there are any who do. The knowledge that my friend, ABC's Peter Jennings, apparently died far too young because he was a lifetime smoker is widespread. I think that has much to do with the fact a smoking anchorman in a "Newsroom" series today seems not true-to-life. It's as out of place (and about as believable) as a moose in a phone booth.
"The Newsroom" remains, based on performances to date, the best new television series of the year.
(Yes, I know: "Political Animals", which premiered on USA network last night, is getting heavy hype as a challenger. Any show with the great Sigourney Weaver playing in a "Hillary Clinton like" role is bound get a lot of attention and be entertaining. Maybe it's because I am a journalist and "The Newsroom" hits so close to home, but "Political Animals"—good as it may be—doesn't have the relevance and importance of the news drama.)