LOS ANGELES — Even the star of HBO’s drama “The Newsroom” admits that season one had its growing pains.
Creator Aaron Sorkin’s show about a news show was, along with the now-defunct “Smash,” last year’s TV series most likely to be hated or loved — or one that viewers actually loved to hate.
On the hate side were some of those of the conservative-political variety and many, if not more, television critics of every variety; on the other side were the series’ devoted fans, albeit a group that shrank considerably between the time the show debuted and the series’ season one finale.
“Season one, we’re guessing,” noted actor Jeff Daniels, who portrays the show’s central character, cable-news anchorman Will McAvoy. “It’s like a first draft. So, for Aaron, he’s trying to figure out how to write for me. We’re trying to figure out who Will is, who (Will’s executive producer) MacKenzie is. Where does the show work, where would it go, what’s the direction? So, you almost need a season to figure that out. I think we guessed right quite a lot. But coming into season two, it’s like we own it.”
Daniels, Sorkin and nearly all of “The Newsroom” staff gathered last week on the Paramount lot for a premiere party celebrating the series’ first episode of the second season, which debuted Sunday.
Oddly enough, at once, the opener reveals plenty, and plenty of nothing, about what to expect from the second season.
“We kind of play a lot of the cards right at the beginning,” explained executive producer Alan Poul. “But we’re actually holding back a lot. The idea was not to make the season about what will happen with the big story ... but, rather, how did this happen? How did this become such a mess?”
Actress Allison Pill, who is Will’s now not-so-green associate producer, did her best to serve up plot teasers without spoiling surprises for viewers. “What I can say is that there is one overarching storyline that involves a fake story and the sort of legal ramifications of such a thing going on the air,” she said. “And I think it’s a fascinating kind of season-long story that you have to really pay attention to. It’s quick and it’s twisted.”
And it’s likely to continue to polarize both viewers and critics, something Daniels said he and Sorkin knew the show would do from the start.
“First of all, look: Art is supposed to push buttons,” Daniels commented. “We live in a divided country. We live in a (country) of left-of-left and right-of-right screaming (people), and they’re the only ones that are being heard. So here comes this show that takes some shots at the right-of-right and they don’t like it. So — bang! — they hit the Twitter, they hit everything, and off they go.”
Not that that’s such a bad thing. In fact, if some folks from the right weren’t screaming, one of the show’s actresses admitted she’d be concerned.
“If we’re going to (portray) an accurate cable-news program, we have to slant one way, because that is what cable news is now,” said Olivia Munn, who plays reporter/anchor Sloan Sabbith. “You can name cable-news networks and they all slant one way or the other.”
“You know, there’s a saying in theatre,” observed Tony winner John Gallagher (“Spring Awakening”), who portrays “Newsroom” producer Jim Harper. “If someone doesn’t walk out of your show, you’re doing something wrong,” he continued. “And I think the same goes for all art, that I think if it doesn’t polarize a little bit, then there’s something wrong. I think that anything that’s absolutely across-the-board loved or absolutely across-the-board hated (is problematic). I want to hear where people disagree.”