I don’t want to flood the blog with HBO stories. But for those who believe good television writing consists of characters reading Think Progress blog posts to each other, this is a dark day indeed. HBO has announced that they’re canceling Aaron Sorkin’s minimally acclaimed drama The Newsroom after its third season, which premieres this fall. A moment of silence may be in order—or perhaps a moment of fast-paced chatter.
The show, which starred Jeff Daniels and purported to show life behind-the-scenes in a cable newsroom, received enormous attention in the political press, much of it negative. Conservatives mocked the show’s overweening left-wing politics. Many liberals thought the women characters were too bumbling—“Aaron Sorkin’s Ladies Sure Do Slip on a Lot of Banana Peels,” headlined one Jezebel blogger. The Newsroom‘s badness may have been one of the few sources of bipartisan agreement over the past couple years. It is hard to watch MacKenzie McHale, the show’s female lead, without wondering why someone so accomplished is such a klutz. Less political critics were harsh too, finding the show preachy and unrealistic.
When HBO signed Sorkin, they agreed to unleash him from the usual editorial review process. The Newsroom was Sorkin’s id, and it showed. The characters spent most of their time preaching Sorkin’s opinions, speaking in Sorkin’s voice (Question: What’s your favorite Aaron Sorkin character? Answer: The earnest, witty one who talks quickly), and reinforcing Sorkin’s left-wing politics. The latter was the most glaring offense. News anchor Will McEvoy, played by Jeff Daniels and inspired by Keith Olbermann (now there’s a winning combination!), had a habit of reciting the most warmed-over liberal clichés like they were brilliant strokes of oratory. Try to watch this monologue, in which McEvoy calls Tea Partiers “the American Taliban,” without keeling over from laughter:
Season 2 of The Newsroom showed some initial promise, cutting back on the speechifying and self-satisfaction. But the finale was a clichéd disaster that towed in 600,000 fewer viewers than the season 1 ender. And it was hard to escape the impression that, really, at the end of the day, Sorkin just wanted to pick up a club and bludgeon us while shouting his opinions at the top of his lungs. That those opinions were conventional and boring made it all the worse.
Now Sorkin will have to find a new platform on which to sanctimoniously harangue the human race. He’ll almost certainly be given one. Sorkin’s success with The West Wing has carried him far and will carry him farther still. Plus—let’s be honest—some of his movies, most notably The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War, have been genuinely entertaining. But in a world where the TV serialization is the new motion picture and writing a show demands constant innovation, Sorkin’s hallmarks—the rat-tat dialogue, the aggressive idealism—may have run their course.