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Emmys 2012: Why DVRs Make Aaron Sorkin Feel Like He's the Only One Watching 'The Newsroom'

Dick Wolf, Aaron Sorkin and David E. Kelley
Art Streiber
Dick Wolf, Aaron Sorkin and David E. Kelley

Delayed viewership gives his HBO series an 80 percent bump in the ratings, the showrunner tells THR: "I don't get to experience the audience watching the show."

This story first appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"When I started, there were three networks, and if you didn't have a 30 share, you were canceled," says Dick Wolf. "Now I think, 'The Olympics got a 32 share?' It's a different world!"

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Times certainly have changed, but the influence of this powerhouse writer-producer trio has not. Since beginning his television career in the writers room on NBC's Hill Street Blues, the 65-year-old producer -- and architect behind NBC's storied Law & Order franchise -- has become something of a production legend.

But it wasn't until the original L&O snagged its first Emmy drama series victory in 1997 that Wolf realized the significance of his creation. "You don't expect to win," he recalls. "You think, 'What was wrong with the other six shows?' I was so stunned. That was a pretty good moment."

Aaron Sorkin, 51, who burst onto the small screen with the ABC dramedy Sports Night in 1998, says the biggest change he has seen in his 15-year TV career -- during which his zeitgeisty The West Wing for NBC won best drama series four years in a row (2000-03) -- is time-shifting. "Audiences are watching at a time other than when the network puts it on," he says.

The Oscar-winning screenwriter (for 2010's The Social Network) is surprised that 80 percent of viewers of his HBO series The Newsroom are watching it via multiple media platforms such as DVR and HBO On Demand. "Unlike with a movie or a play, I don't get to experience the audience watching the show," says Sorkin (who is gearing up for a second season while penning a Steve Jobs biopic). "On Sunday night, it feels like I'm the only one watching it," he adds. "It's hard to imagine anyone else is too."

David E. Kelley, 56, a former attorney who wrote for L.A. Law on NBC before going on to create such iconic legal series as Ally McBeal for Fox and Boston Legal for ABC, remembers with particular fondness his 1993 drama series win for CBS' Picket Fences. "We were on life support and struggling to be noticed," he says.

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"Our ratings, by those days' standards, were not great. Today, it would be a top 10 show." But even with nearly 30 noms, Kelley is happy to bow to his contemporaries. "Dick is a professor of television production," he says of his longtime friend and peer. "And when I look at Aaron's work, I think: 'Why did I ever take on writing to begin with? You should turn it all over to him.' "