The Newsroom’s a flop in the US, but it might work in Britain

Jeff Daniels plays a TV anchor in new Aaron Sorkin drama The Newsroom
Jeff Daniels plays a TV anchor in new Aaron Sorkin drama The Newsroom
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American TV critics have been savaging new HBO show The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s latest depiction of busy workplaces as entirely staffed by identical fast-talking, fact-spouting, pedeconferencing smartasses who conduct their personal relationships with the maturity of seven-year-olds.

In this one, Jeff Daniels’ smugly assured presenter of a cable show called News Night, in a blatant steal from the classic movie Network, suddenly decides he’s mad as hell and he isn’t going to take it anymore.

He stops being a fence-sitter and comes out in favour of “speaking Truth to Stupid”, which turns out to be such a radical idea that it revolutionises the media.

The actual media hated the first episode: The New Republic dubbed it “The Snoozeroom,” Salon said “it gets almost everything wrong” while Reason magazine sarcastically exclaimed “Finally, a show about elitist American nostalgia!”

And they’ve got a point - it’s astonishing how it manages to be simultaneously offensive, silly, well-acted yet completely boring, but that’s a rant best saved for the show’s arrival on Sky Atlantic next week.

But perhaps the series will go down better over here, where after all we already have our own infuriated reporter presenting a programme called Newsnight.

In fact, the comics writer Warren Ellis wondered on his blog whether The Newsroom was in fact just “a televisual fantasy exploring the idea of whether or not Jeremy Paxman could get work in America”.

When Paxman’s contempt for hapless junior minister Chloe Smith recently boiled over with questions like “is this some kind of joke?” and “do you ever think you’re incompetent?” it could have been a scene straight out of Sorkin’s scripts.

Yet it’s unlikely that Paxo – or the fictional Will McAvoy – would ever really get on American TV as anything other than a reality show judge.

While once avuncular, senior newsmen like Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite held sway, the trend in American news for years now has been partisan, opinionated reporting.

Whether the Republican and Tea Party supporting Fox News, or the more liberal MSNBC, each has its own slant (while, in the reverse of the British situations, newspapers tend to stay neutral).

So the concept of an equal opportunity pit-bull like Paxman would be deeply odd over there, which may partly explain the show’s baffled reception.

There hasn’t been a British drama set in either newspapers or broadcast news for a while (not counting BBC2’s The Hour, which is set in the 1950s) and, particularly after the revelations of the last year, perhaps it’s time for one.

For all its flaws and despite its American setting, The Newsroom may be the closest we’ve got for now.

• The Newsroom is on Sky Atlantic at 10pm on 10 July