NEWSROOM: THE FINAL TAKEAWAYS ON THE SHOW THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
The most hate-watched show in American history ended its first season Sunday night, creeping back into the abyss with a totally respectable 2.3 million viewers. Were they all watching to write nasty tweets about it? Or was there a backlash to the backlash?
In any event, Newsroom will mark the moment in media history when cultural criticism came unmoored from any consequence, coherent narrative or meaning. After Newsroom, it is clear that when we speak about the world, we are speaking to ourselves. And to a handful of people just like us. Never before in history have more people been empowered to reign as critics. And never before has their been more uniformity in opinion. And never before has critical opinion mattered less.
Let us review the Newroom timeline:
• Three months ago, the show debuted. Some critics on watching the first episode or two in advance screeners declared it a near masterpiece.
• Before it was released, however, after a particularly harsh review in the New Yorker, a critical consensus formed a week before its debute that it was the worst show in history ever. Those who had declared it a masterpiece a week before, quickly and quietly retreated from their earlier statements.
• Those who dared offer tepid praise found themselves under siege.
• The show became a cause celebre on the various social medium as people hate-watched to hate-tweet.
• Meanwhile while helming a show about a crusade to restore integrity to journalism, Aaron Sorkin brazenly lied to a conference full of journalists, and while he was at it, smeared the reputation of one of their colleagues who had in fact reported the truth.
• Nearly every publication present reported Sorkin’s smear and lies verbatim, unquestioned. None, at first, asked the simple questions to ascertain the truth.
• A week later, one publication followed up and asked the simple questions and ascertained the truth.
• The world had moved on. No one cared. No one corrected their story or followed up.
• HBO the Tiffany cable network - home of Emmy’s, prestige and keeper of the self-image of all upscale urbanites on both coasts - hosted a show that was the most brazenly hostile to women since June Cleaver untied her apron strings, and a show urging people to demand higher standards of journalism, built around a view of journalism that sits somewhere between infantile and hallucinatory.
• This show aired before HBO’s show about naked vampires having sex with witches and zombies in the swamps.
• Interspersed with these were movies about how stupid Sarah Palin is.
• As the season progressed, still no voice appeared to defend it. Twitter became a live shooting gallery at airtime each week.
• As this went on, the ratings gradually…ticked up, until it ended its season in fairly decent shape ratings wise.
• And of course, HBO which survives on “buzz” got plenty.
Questions, but for the moment, no answers:
• I didn’t like Newsroom, but can it really be that no one did? 2.3 million people were watching; they can’t all have been hatewatching can they?
• If not, why does none dare speak out?
• Much scarier to me than the idea that bad TV shows would get away with being bad is the idea that no one feels safe disagreeing with a consensus on something as inconsequential as whether a TV show is good or not. Much as I hate Newsroom, I don’t like a world where no one defends it.
• Nowhere on TV have the forces of the Backlash Era expressed themselves more firmly than on Newsroom. So why did this not matter?
• Or does currying Backlash become an alternate strategy? In a crowded landscape can making yourself a target be a name-recognition building, frisson creating sound strategy?