Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
HBO’s eagerly awaited drama The Newsroom is a feast for theater lovers, packed with stage vets who perform the complicated dialogue of playwright-turned-Emmy and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin with aplomb. “You have to learn a Broadway play every week,” Jeff Daniels, the show’s Tony-nominated star (God of Carnage) recently explained to Vanity Fair. After getting a sneak peek at the exciting Newsroom pilot, which premieres on June 24, Broadway.com offers the following theater-centric cheat sheet.
Broadway Debaters: The Newsroom’s opening scene centers on a heated debate at a college journalism symposium. Daniels, as gruff anchorman Will McAvoy, trades barbs with panelists played by Jason Butler Harner (currently in off-Broadway’s Cock), Elizabeth Marvel (Other Desert Cities) and David Cromer (actor/director of Our Town). Sorkin reveals that he originally planned to feature journalist Keith Olbermann and the late blogger Andrew Breitbart, but “it became clear that the scene was too difficult to be done by non-professionals.”
Musical Theater Inspiration: Off-Broadway and UK theater vet Emily Mortimer plays news producer MacKenzie McHale, a war-zone veteran hired to work with Will, with whom she has a complicated history. When she attempts to inspire him with words from Don Quixote, he corrects her, noting that she is reciting Man of La Mancha, not Cervantes. In press materials, Sorkin promises, “You’ll hear characters quote musicals like Camelot, Man of La Mancha, Brigadoon and West Side Story—all romantic stories of a perfect but hallucinatory place.”
Tony Nominee Love Triangle: Inside the newsroom, romantic tension brews between Tony winner John Gallagher Jr. (Spring Awakening) as a rising news producer and Tony nominees Alison Pill (Mauritius, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) as a smart, shy assistant and Thomas Sadoski (Other Desert Cities, Reasons to Be Pretty) as a veteran producer. On the sidelines, for now: staffer Chris Chalk (who played Denzel Washington's son in Fences) and fellow anchor David Harbour (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).
Masterful Set Design: The hub of The Newsroom is the sprawling workplace of the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACS), including a maze-like collection of cluttered desks, private offices that aren’t so private and an uber-realistic TV studio and control room. This actor-friendly universe is the work of Tony-winning designer and two-time Emmy nominee Richard Hoover (Not About Nightingales).
The Sorkin Effect: Before finding fame and fortune as the creator of TV’s West Wing and screenwriter of Moneyball and The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin earned a B.F.A. in musical theater from Syracuse and had a breakout Broadway hit in 1989 with A Few Good Men. As noted above, his rapid-fire speeches are tailor-made for stage-trained actors who thrive on the demands of a juicy monologue. (Just watch the gleam in network honcho Sam Waterston’s eye as he goes head to head with Jeff Daniels.) “I still think the best theater in America is on television,” Sorkin told Vanity Fair, and he’s determined to prove it in The Newsroom. Stay tuned!