LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the first 10 minutes of the second season of HBO drama “The Newsroom,” creator Aaron Sorkin hits viewers with half a dozen news themes, an intense legal discussion, a flashback and SOPA.
Yes, SOPA, the acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act being debated in Congress. It’s the kind of complex topics that will keep news junkies and fans of Sorkin’s chaotic television newsroom on their toes for season two, which premieres Sunday.
Although the first season of “The Newsroom” has a good chance of picking up Emmy nominations next week, including for best drama, Sorkin’s creation was picked apart by the critics.
Now the writer who made his name with the Emmy-winning drama “The West Wing” and won a writing Oscar for “The Social Network” begins this season with something to prove.
In a sign of what’s at stake, Sorkin told The Hollywood Reporter that for season two he re-wrote the first three episodes and had to re-shoot chunks of the first and second at a cost of several million dollars to HBO, owned by Time Warner.
“The Newsroom” stars Jeff Daniels as gruff news anchor Will McAvoy, bent on delivering a nightly newscast that tackles the tough news issues, regardless of ratings pressures. He is supported in his quest by his former love and producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), his boss (Sam Waterston) and smart staffers whose fragile personal lives enrich each episode.
In the first season, Sorkin was criticized for presenting a sanctimonious view of the news, with “New York Times” critic Alessandra Stanley saying: “‘The Newsroom’ would be a lot better if the main characters preached less and went back to reporting.”
For this season, Sorkin hired a dozen consultants, mostly journalists, to help him navigate the news. But he insists he is not out to tell the world how to produce news.
“This show isn’t meant to be a ‘here’s how you do it’ kind of thing,” Sorkin told Reuters this week. “It’s a workplace show.”
The Sorkin-created workplace is a bewildering environment, rife with his trademark, detail-filled dialogue and breaking news events, most of which happened in the real world. Add to that a complex legal case that will thread its way through entire season.
In the first few minutes of season two, Will McAvoy is in deep trouble with his corporate masters for calling the conservative Tea Party movement “the American Taliban.”
A corporate lawyer played by show newcomer Marcia Gay Harden says to Will: “Fourteen months ago, you went on the air and called the Tea Party the American Taliban. What happened then?” Will responds “A lot.”
The viewer is then pulled into the vortex of news from the year before in flashback, from the campaigning of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to the rebel victory in Libya to Occupy Wall Street to SOPA. And then there is a fictional story about U.S. use of chemical weapons code-named “Genoa,” based on a real 1998 story that got CNN in trouble. It will be the bete noire for “News Night” this season.
Daniels, who may also be an Emmy contender, believes Will McAvoy’s objectives are not just the stuff of fiction.
“I think there are shows out there that are trying to do, and successfully do, what Will is trying to do ... And that is to tell the truth,” he said.
Sorkin, for his part, says he is not selling “The Newsroom” as a critique of today’s news media landscape.
“I think it’s impossible to make any statement about the media,” Sorkin said. “There’s just so much of it. It’s so big.”
Additional reporting by John Russell; Editing by Stacey Joyce