The Newsroom’s third and final season is debuting this fall on HBO, but creator Aaron Sorkin told the crowd at a Tribeca Film Festival discussion on Monday that he’s just starting to learn how to write the often critically maligned series. And that he’s sorry.
“I’m going to let you all stand in for everyone in the world, if you don’t mind. I think you and I got off on the wrong foot with The Newsroom and I apologize and I’d like to start over,” Sorkin told the audience after interviewer (and former President Obama speech writer) Jon Favreau asked about what he’s learned about the media doing the series. “I think that there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. I did not set the show in the recent past in order to show the pros how it should have been done. That was and remains the furthest thing from my mind. I set the show in the recent past because I didn’t want to make up fake news. It was going to be weird if the world that these people were living in did not in any way resemble the world that you were living in… Also, I wanted the option of having a terrific dynamic that you can get when the audience knows more than the characters do… So, I wasn’t trying to and I’m not capable of teaching a professional journalist a lesson. That wasn’t my intent and it’s never my intent to teach you a lesson or try to persuade you or anything.”
He went on to explain, “I like writing romantically and idealistically. I try to balance that with just enough realism so that it feels like whatever romantic ideal is in there is somewhat attainable. It’s not a cartoon. It’s not animated… These are people who are trying to do the news well when market forces work against them.”
As the Tribeca event was happening on the same day as the 2014 Boston Marathon, Sorkin told the audience that an episode of The Newsroom was filming in California about the bombing at last year’s marathon. The creator also said it was the first time he was ever not on the set of something he’s written. “I haven’t become an expert in anything. I’m not sophisticated when it comes to politics, when it comes to journalism. I’m not as smart as the characters are or, as you can see, as articulate,” he said, stumbling over his words. “I want to make it clear: I don’t know nothin’,” he eventually added.
Favreau later asked Sorkin — who also created and wrote Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip — if his writing style changed over the years. “I’m able to catch bad writing before it gets on the page better than I used to,” he responded. “The problem is with television, the schedule’s so ferocious. It’s so fast… We have airdates. We’re working backwards. There are airdates that have to be hit and you have to write when you’re not writing well and then you have to point a camera at it. So, with everything, we shoot my first drafts and you just have to live with, There’s bad writing out there. We had to do it. This is what you signed up for. It’s kind of like M*A*S*H unit… We just want to stop the bleeding. Some weeks, that’s what it’s like on series television. Make it as good as you possibly can in the time that you have to do it, but there isn’t a single episode of television I’ve written that I don’t wish I could get back and do again.”
When Favreau noted no one is a harsher critic to a writer than him- or herself, Sorkin replied, “Actually, I’ve got some evidence that I’ve got some harsher critics than me.”
Shortly thereafter, an audience member asked if he’s happy with The Newsroom. “I feel like I’m just now starting to learn how to write it,” he replied. “I’ve very proud of The Newsroom. I have the time of my life working with the people that I work with, but there is a learning curve and unfortunately, those lessons are learned in front of several million people. Again, that’s what you sign up for. I wish that I could go back to the beginning of The Newsroom and start again and replicate what you have with a play, which is a preview period… But I’m feeling really good about how the third season is going. I’ll look back on it fondly and proudly and wish I could get every scene of every episode back so that I could do it all over again.”