Refusing to join the ravenous pack of media jackals picking apart the carcass of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom on Twitter, Grantland editor Sean Fennessey stepped back from the bloody scrum, steeled himself for the consequences, and declared his independence. Now he must defend himself against this brutal inquisition about his controversial opinion.
At 10:17 p.m. Sunday night, just minutes after the (East Coast feed) conclusion of the pilot episode, you tweeted:
Liked and will watch The Newsroom. Though I wish Alison Pill and Emily Mortimer were not forced into emotional slavery by domineering bros.
Ignoring the “domineering bros” issue for a moment, were you aware that as you tweeted this, virtually every person on Twitter, especially members of the very online media Mr. Sorkin hopes to one day civilize, were busy savaging the show, making your tweet a virtually revolutionary act?
Sean Fennessey: YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I WAS. [Turns off Colonel Jessup voice.] I was aware of that, as I was aware of the opinions of people like Grantland’s Own Dear Andy Greenwald and the myriad other television critics who used The Newsroom as an opportunity to sharpen their swords against Aaron Sorkin’s chattering teeth. And I wouldn’t be honest if I said that my opinion wasn’t — somewhat — informed by the conversation that preceded the premiere. Based on the vitriol, I half-expected a rousing smash-cut intro featuring Jeff Daniels lighting Emily Mortimer’s hair on fire while dancing to “Call Me Maybe” as Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda ritually sacrificed a bikini-clad Olivia Munn. All while they walked and talked. Alas, it was just a sharply written, totally dishonest, but sneakily fun hour of television show. Really old-fashioned, but, um, so?
Did you receive any death threats, either via @-reply or direct message?
Fennessey: @MattAlbie60 reached out via DM to let me know I wasn’t alone out there. He wouldn’t want me to admit this, though — he may have gone off his Paxil for a spell, so he’s probably asleep/writing a brilliant sketch. Aside from that, I lost about 3,700 followers. Is that bad?
Do you feel really alone?
Fennessey: Like, in this cold world? No. In the short time since we began this exchange, I’ve heard not two, not three, but four staffers openly state, “I liked it.” They liked it! A TV show designed to make you like it! This is the natural progression, right? The demons come out with incisors, chew up the narrative, and make you expect a sodden piece of blowhard TV. And guess what? That’s the point. This is a show about learning to become a blowhard. Who knew sweet, dumb Harry Dunne could be such a fire-breathing gasbag.
Also, I sung this to myself at episode’s conclusion:
What if I told you — assuming you’re not aware of this, but you probably are — that the critical consensus seems to be that, OK, the pilot was decent enough (it was, sort of), but the next three episodes go completely off the rails, indulging with incredible abandon all the tendencies that drive people insane about Sorkin’s TV work? (I haven’t seen them, but I understand that at the end of every show, Will McAvoy punctuates each Special Comment by putting on a Walter Cronkite mask and smashing an iPad with a sledgehammer.) Would you stand by your tweet, or would you recant, using your freed-up Sunday nights to rewatch your favorite West Wings instead?
Fennessey: Unpopular opinion: I think The West Wing is JUST FINE. Never melted my heart the way Sports Night did, so I’m more likely to return to that. And since when are the third and fourth episodes of any series ever better than the first one — the one they spend months and months writing and rewriting, pitching, meticulously casting, prepping, rehearsing, and promoting? I seem to recall feeling a little fatigued by the third and fourth episodes of [gasp] The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, et al. The third and fourth episodes are neither the beginning nor the end. That is the worst part of anything. Haven’t you ever heard a sitcom character complain about marriage?
Find a way to defend the bizarre fact that the show’s two main characters are named “Will McAvoy” and “Mackenzie MacHale.” That’s three “macs” in four names. How many “mac” names can a single show (or backstory relationship) support? Was the script coordinator too timid to point this out?
Fennessey: Is it so impossible that two wonderful minds of network news are of Scottish/Irish/English descent? [Takes slug of whiskey.]
As an Irishman, I’m surprised he wasn’t named MacWill. Fun fact: Before I changed my name, I was born MacShaunessey McGonigal MacNasty McJr. (Changed it so I could have a “cool” editing career.)
In what world would a corporation in the middle of an unfolding environmental crisis of epic scale allow Jesse Eisenberg to give a telephone interview on live TV, exposing woefully inadequate, possibly criminal staffing for rig inspection?
Fennessey: Is this a question about plausibility? Was it plausible when Adebisi turned Emerald City into a modern-day Caligula on Oz? No, but it was awesome. Was it plausible when Don Draper turned a nation of intellectual jerks into blubbering ninnies as he described a slide projector? Was it plausible when Ross brought home a pet monkey on Friends and it didn’t crap all over Monica and Rachel’s luxurious (and implausible) apartment?
This is drama! And sometimes in drama an Eisenberg stammers his way into getting fired by a shadowy government organization by agreeing to appear on live television amid the biggest catastrophe in his industry’s 200-year existence. We have to be OK with these things; otherwise, every television show would look like Swamp People.
How will the News Night team break stories once their young producer’s family and college connections are exhausted?
Fennessey: I think we’ve underestimated the reach of Young But Quietly Tenacious Senior Producer Jim Harper’s genealogy. Did you know his mother is Elizabeth Warren? And his niece is Lindsay Lohan? And his cousin is, obviously, future Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper? Think of the flurry of news. Dow drama; tabloid tricks; sports scoops!
Women love to shop: true or false?
Sean Fennessey: Women be shoppin’.
Will MacAvoy has a blog, really?
Fennessey: I’m not defending this one. Not only is it the worst moment in the whole pilot, it’s also the worst joke in Sorkin’s largely unfunny career of joke writing. (See: Studio 60; Sports Night’s first-season laugh track; everything Kevin Pollak says in A Few Good Men; the Winklevii.)
I will say, is it possible that Will’s aversion to blogs is ahead of the curve? How long before someone in casual conversation (like, say, a TV critic) says, “Oh you can read about it on my blog” and we’re allowed to punch that person? That’s never cool.
Who’s Margaret/Ellen going to end up with: the totally unlikable commitmentphobe who thinks a massive oil spill isn’t a “story” or Josh Malina from Sports Night?
Fennessey: If only that were Malina. I have a secret hope that she finds her way to “Gary,” a.k.a. Tom Walker from Homeland, and then the show takes a sharp turn to tales of espionage and international assassination. Praise be to Abu Nazir.
Was Sam Waterston actually drunk throughout his scenes?
Fennessey: I’ve heard speculation that all that head bobbing and torso twitching was a physical manifestation of Waterston’s displeasure with Sorkin’s preposterous dialogue. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is … even better! Can you imagine waiting to see how sloshed District Attorney Jack McCoy is going to be every week? One twitch, a sip of beer. One head bob, take a shot. One maniacal arching of his brow, shotgun a beer. Finally, a TV drinking game about drinking.
After this brutal twitquistion, are you standing by your original tweet, even if doing so means that you will be pelted with small rocks and greasy Subway wrappers for the rest of the day, while the rest of the Internet lines up to repeatedly strike you in the genitals with some shoe leather?
Fennessey: This is sort of like being Marie Antoinette’s handmaiden, post–“Let them eat cake.” I mean, if I continue to ride, will I be kidnapped and beheaded with a crusty Chicken BMT? I have to do this for the rest of the silent majority. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at media parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.