Wednesday, August 15, 2012

HBO The Newsroom Episode 8 Tragedy Porn

I’m  renaming this episode: “What You Missed”

The fictional Will McAvoy news show is dropping fast in the ratings.  If it drops any further, the show will be in a death spiral.

High-minded ideals about covering the important news and ignoring personal tragedy and gossip have vanished.  Will McAvoy wants to host a presidential debate and that won’t happen unless ratings are high.  A presidential debate is the price of his soul.

I shouldn’t be too hard on Will McAvoy and staff.  What’s the point of doing a show that no one watches?  What’s the point of being high-minded if you become irrelevant in the process? What’s the point if the low ratings get you fired and someone else takes over and its wall-to-wall tragedy and gossip?  So balance is needed, but it is hard to discern where balance ends and caving begins.

So the newsroom team leads with the Casey Anthony story. They follow Anthony Weiner’s petty crimes and misdemeanors of the heart—His foolish tweeting games that have nothing to do with actual crimes and misdemeanors.  And the real news gets ignored.

“The Newsroom” makes a big point of letting us know what we missed. A large white board is set up in the newsroom and the important stories get crossed off this board with dramatic flourishes. So what did we miss?  We missed the story about the debt- ceiling crisis, the story about obstructionism in the Senate (Republicans refuse to confirm Obama appointees), the story about the dire unemployment rate and the need for a new stimulus, and more. 

The fictional views of the fictional news show missed it, but we the viewers of “The Newsroom” got a recap of the issues with commentary. We also get a rant by Maggie about Michelle Bachman committing a form of “identity theft” by claiming that God told her to run for president.  As a Christian, Maggie feels insulted.  She makes a strong case for not reducing God to a political hack who takes sides in elections. 

Ironically, the episode gives us a lot of coverage of Casey Anthony and Anthony Weiner while pounding home the point that the news should be ignoring this “tragedy porn.”

Don is called in because he is the “master of the dark art” of reducing news to entertainment.  He delivers a one-sentence tutorial on the subject. “Forget everything you know about the news.”  That line is my "words-of-wisdom moment" of the week.

What I am missing from this show is balance.  A balance between polemics and good stories with three-dimensional believable characters.  I have never seen so much unprofessional behavior and childish antics committed by people who are supposed to be the best in the business.  I know it is a TV show, and on TV things need to be exaggerated sometimes, but balance means knowing where to draw the line between humor and nonsense.

I read online that all the Season One writers, save one, have been fired. New writers for Season Two.  I’m hopeful that next season we can all get what we are missing. If not, this viewer is going to go missing.

This picture of Don is from http://www.indiewire.com