'Newsroom' Panel Butts Heads With Piers Morgan, Addresses Sandy Hook Conundrum

Piers Morgan Aaron Sorkin Newsroom PaleyFest
Kevin Parry for Paley Center for Media

Life seemed to imitate art on Sunday night, when Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels and much of the Newsroom cast spoke at PaleyFest -- and not just because someone in the crowd paid homage to the HBO series' pilot by asking Daniels, "Why is America the greatest country in the world?"

No, it was the fact that a journalist, in this instance moderator Piers Morgan, was as much a part of the story as the people he was there to interview. The CNN host brought his line of questioning back to himself and his own experiences in the newsroom throughout the discussion, at one point seeming to draw the ire of actress Olivia Munn.

"I prefer to see Piers Morgan and Diane Sawyer on the news and not on a red carpet," said Munn, a former sports reporter and G4 host. "You turn on CNN, and people are putting themselves in the story ... Journalism is about other people's stories."

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Munn referenced the recent Twitter feud that ensued when CNN anchor Don Lemon tweeted about a perceived snub from actor Jonah Hill in a hotel lobby.

"It's so obnoxious," she said. "Because he was Jonah Hill, that gives you something fun to tweet about. Then I actually saw it on CNN. I cannot believe, with the things going on in the world, that we're spending so much time talking about this. Have your opinions on new stories or situations, but to make yourself newsworthy is so egotistical and self-absorbed."

Morgan, who fessed up to walking the carpet prior to the event, changed the subject, the audience laughed and Munn appeared amused herself -- but things circled back to Morgan again when he brought up his network's recent addition of Jeff Zucker and the former NBC chief's ratings payday from February's wall-to-wall coverage of the now infamous "poop cruise."

Sorkin asked Morgan why he and Zucker couldn't work the same magic on the sequester, the federal spending cuts going into effect in March that have received what he deemed not enough attention by the cable news network.

"Honestly, no. I think the sequester is one of the most dreadfully boring stories ever told on television," responded Morgan, who added that they had decided not to even use the word "sequester" on air by the end of the week. "There are many stories that are just incredibly dry."

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"I don't feel like I can tell anybody who does this for a living how to do it," said Sorkin. "I'm just thinking it would be so valuable if it could be done."

That was more or less the end of the awkward moments. Sorkin then added that the sequester, wherever it goes, won't be part of the sophomore season of Newsroom. A clip from the season-two premiere that screened at the top of the panel showed that the series picks up in August 2011 with Muammar Gaddafi's Tripoli compound being raided, Dominique Strauss Kahn seeing charges against him dropped, and anniversary coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks being planned.

Real-life events that will also be tackled over the course of the 10-episode run, which is currently filming episode four, will take the series all the way through the 2012 election before stopping just short of a story Sorkin says he doesn't yet know how to cover: the Dec. 14 slaying of 26 at Newtown, Conn.'s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"If the only ways I could think of a story would reduce it, I wouldn't do it," said Sorkin. "Looking down the calendar at Sandy Hook, that's my fear there ... You've got to be careful. You really don't want to do a disservice to that story."

Email: Michael.OConnell@THR.com; Twitter: @MikeyLikesTV