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Does Art Imitate Life?

An anchor's take on HBO's 'The Newsroom'
Jon Friedman

So, what does Dan Rather, anchorman, think of Aaron Sorkin’s polemic drama, The Newsroom?

“Love it!” he exclaims.

I have to admit his reply is surprising. No, it stuns me. I watched Season One of the show and often felt disgusted by the stilted dialogue—nobody is that clever or quick-witted all the time (much less a working journalist, take it from me!). I also felt disillusioned by the fact that the characters seldom surprised me during the course of the season. What we saw in the pilot was what we got at the end of the season, too.

I expected Rather to mumble, in an irritated tone of voice, that the HBO show was an abomination or, at the very least, a disappointment to him. I expected him to stress that the show was a fantasy, a Hollywood writer’s exaggerated view of the gritty business of television news. I suspected Rather might politely say he didn’t have the free time anymore to watch a TV show every Sunday night, that he was too busy working and writing. But Rather can surprise you with his enthusiasm for new ideas and his general zest for life. I expected him to look hard for reasons to undercut Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of troubled anchor Will McAvoy on The Newsroom. But I was wrong.

Rather blurts out his delighted response so animatedly that I knew he genuinely feels that way. He doesn’t have a pettiness about him. If he did, he wouldn’t unabashedly gush over a program that actually takes the liberty of presenting the warts of a television news operation along with the insecurities and self-doubts of its anchor. Instead, Rather could barely contain his approval and enthusiasm.

“Jeff Daniels plays the part dead-level perfect,” Rather marvels. “I think it is the best new show on television, bar none.” What appealed most to him was the sense of authenticity. “Sorkin and his team have captured the reality of a newsroom closer than anybody has ever done with fiction work. It deals with the pressures.”

It was amazing to know someone of his caliber, who had been through the TV news wars every night, could take a giant step back and simply enjoy the show for its aesthetics and not stand on the sidelines and nitpick. It is to Rather’s credit that he is not so petty as to think he knows everything about the news business and is its only real authority, the stereotype of the disgruntled retiree who can’t accept that he is no longer in the game.

I glean a strong sense of self from Rather’s appraisal of The Newsroom. He is comfortable in his own skin. He no longer has to pass judgment on his former industry or belittle others to feel better about himself. He is not a cranky coot. He is happy, relaxed and still eager to learn about the world.

Rather has one criticism, but it reflects more on the modern TV-news industry than it does on Sorkin’s imaginary newsroom. “There is a better ethnic and racial mix in The Newsroom than there is in television,” he laments.

 

Read more about Dan Rather's illustious career, highly publicized failure and subsequent triumphs in Rather Persistent

Post date: 
Jan 22, 2013

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