'The Newsroom' feels the pressure in Season 2

8:58 PM, Jul 10, 2013   |    comments
In Season 2, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and the 'News Night' team will delve into such stories as Occupy Wall Street, the Trayvon Martin killing and the Benghazi consulate attack, wrapping up with the 2012 election. (Photo: Melissa Moseley, HBO)
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By Bill Keveney
USA TODAY

The people chasing the stories become the story in Season 2 of HBO's The Newsroom (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT).

Instead of asking the questions, news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is answering them as the season opens. A lawyer (Marcia Gay Harden) is doing the probing as the cable network faces a massive lawsuit for reporting -- then retracting -- a story alleging the use of chemical weapons by the Obama administration.

Going from hunter to target is not a comfortable position for the news team.

"In the first season, we were going after the Tea Party, what has kind of divided the Republican Party, Daniels says. "This is more about an incident that happens to us. Journalistically, we follow ... a very, very wrong path."

The season-long arc, which follows the reporting of a story known as Operation Genoa, is a major structural change from the first season of the drama, which follows the personal and professional lives of a team of cable television journalists.

Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin found the high-stakes story he was looking for when consultants brought up CNN's 1998 Tailwind fiasco, in which the network retracted a story alleging the U.S. military used nerve gas against American defectors in Laos during the Vietnam war.

"There was a problem with the story. People got fired and people had to resign," says Sorkin, who created The West Wing and won an Oscar for writing The Social Network. "I needed to update it and fictionalize it."

As the Genoa story unwinds, The Newsroom will continue examining real news events from the recent past. The opener picks up in August 2011, just a week after the first-season finale, and runs through Election Night 2012.

The Newsroom will look at such stories as Occupy Wall Street, the Trayvon Martin killing and the Benghazi consulate attack. And the show explores the political campaign, as senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) decides to ride the Romney campaign bus to avoid an awkward situation with unattainable colleague Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill).

But drones and anti-terrorism policy take center stage during the season, says Sorkin, who rewroteparts of the first three episodes and reshot scenes to make the story stronger.

Will, who had a crisis of confidence in Season 1, will rise to the occasion.

"He really begins to take on the role of (being) the big shoulders in the office," Sorkin says.

And Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda), the CEO of the network's parent company, and her network-executive son Reese (Chris Messina), may surprise viewers, Sorkin says. "They're going to choose to do the honorable thing instead of the smart thing."

Will, a Republican, also must face fallout from referring to the Tea Party as the American Taliban. "To me, the more interesting point of friction today isn't between the right and the left, it's between the right and the far right," Sorkin says.

Will also continues his push and pull with executive producer and former lover Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), who had cheated on him when they were involved.

"They absolutely love each other and can't stand each other. Just when you think this might happen, somebody says the wrong thing and then we're in the middle of the civil war again," says Daniels.

The Newsroom itself was a target during its first season. The much-talked-about series drew praise but also criticism: Some saw it as too preachy or liberal, while others complained it depicted female characters as less than serious, especially in their personal lives.

"I knew it was going to be loved and hated just because we were being political," says Daniels. ."And really, at the end of the day, you kind of go, 'Well, thanks for watching.' That's really all you can say: 'Keep watching, keep hating.' ... We're throwing the best we got at it."

Sorkin declines to engage his critics. "They're allowed to say and do what they want," he says."It's not for me to criticize the critics."

He has a point of view, he says, but he's not a political activist. "The show's not being written by a computer. It definitely has an authorial voice. I'm not trying to change your mind."

And he's an advocate for what journalism can be.

"It is a romanticized and idealized version, just like The West Wing was (about) people who work in the White House," he says. The Newsroom "is journalists as cowboys in white hats."

USA Today

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