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Aaron Sorkin faced his critics, literally, at HBO’s portion of the Television Critics Association summer press tour Wednesday. The creator of the critically panned The Newsroom spent a significant portion of the 30-minute session defending his show’s female characters and offered an unprompted denial that the show’s writing staff had been “fired.”
Of course, Sorkin disagreed with widespread criticism that the women of The Newsroom — played by Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill and Olivia Munn — are subservient at best and incompetent at worst. “I completely respect that opinion, but I 100 percent disagree with it,” he said. The female characters “are shown being good at their jobs. Caring about something other than yourself or reaching higher or being curious, plainly smart, and great team players — those qualities to me are what define these characters. And once you nail that down, you can have them slip on as many banana peels as you want. That’s just comedy.”
And he was careful to point out that the opinions expressed by Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy, who is a Republican disillusioned by the more extreme elements in his party, are not in any way reflective of his own. “I want to make a clear distinction between me and the characters that are in the show. Most of the time, I write about things I actually don’t know that much about. I certainly don’t have any idea how to beat the New York Yankees with the second-lowest payroll in baseball,” he said, referring to his screenplay for last year’s Moneyball.
“Political opinions that I have are at the level of sophistication of someone who has a BFA in musical theater.”
Daniels interjected: “One of the things I like about Aaron’s writing — and then I’ll shut up — all of Aaron’s characters have flaws. We come on with these big warts and flaws, and I love that about his writing. And yeah, Emily’s character is established and smart and then she keeps screwing up. And that’s one of the reasons that Will loves her.”
And Sorkin offered an unprompted denial: “The writing staff was not fired,” he said. “And just seeing that in print is scaring the hell out of the writing staff. They’re acting very, very strange. They’re coming to work early. They’re being polite to me.”
Still, a large portion of the show’s first-season staff, including former MTV News and CBS News writer and correspondent Gideon Yago, were let go. Corinne Kinsbury, who was among the writers retained to work on the show’s second season, was referred to as Sorkin’s “ex-girlfriend” in a story on The Daily. And Sorkin took particular issue with this.
“She was incorrectly identified as my ex-girlfriend. She is not,” he said. “I don’t have an ex-girlfriend in the writers room or anywhere else on the show. I don’t have a current girlfriend in the writers room or anywhere else on the show. [Kinsbury] is on the staff for the same reason everybody else is on the staff, because she is extremely talented and brings a sensibility that is different than my own.”
Sorkin allowed that he has brought on several paid consultants from the worlds or journalism and politics, particularly from the ranks of the conservative movement, though he would not name any of them.
HBO’s publicity executives coached Sorkin to keep his composure during a panel that they feared could spin out of control and become too negative. And days earlier they attempted to cancel Sorkin’s session in front of many of the critics who excoriated The Newsroom. But Sorkin insisted on keeping the engagement.
“I wanted to be able to talk to the press,” he said during the post-session scrum. “HBO had canceled my appearance, and I said, ‘No, reinstate it.’ I don’t want to have an adversarial relationship with the press. I get that there are people who don’t like the show and are writing honestly about the show. But I don’t want to have that adversarial feeling.”
Daniels offered a slightly different perspective on the negative reviews.
“I completely get why you do what you do,” Daniels told the assembled reporters from his seat on the dais. “But you don’t do it for me. And you never have. It took me a long time for me to stop reading you. You love me. But you hate me. Where do I go? If Aaron’s happy, if [HBO Entertainment president] Sue [Naegle] is happy, and if I’m happy, it’s good. And it might even be great. There’s nothing you could tell me, I’m sorry to say, that could help me. I wish there were.”
Daniels paused and then asked Sorkin, “Did I just offend all of them? I did.”
Sorkin smiled and patted him on the back.
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie
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