Even though my entire newsfeed is dominated by The Newsroom reviews, quotes, articles, premiere photos, tweets, HBO press releases, and whatever else even remotely connected to The Newsroom… I still feel like it’s not really here yet, that Sunday is still so far away, that we’re really not that close to it actually being on television.
(Some of that, is, as I’ve said… The last time Sorkin had a television show on the air I raised it upon a pedestal… where I watched it no so much teeter but shake with seizures and then plummet forcefully and without grace straight into the ground…as the world burned… and Matt Albie played fiddle in the background.)
(Oh, I still love Studio 60 and all it’s fucking flaws, of which there are a fucking ton, but forgive me if I stop myself from getting on my knees in front of The Newsroom just yet.) (That said, CAN’T WAIT TIL SUNDAY.)
Anyways, here’s “How to Write an Aaron Sorkin Script, by Aaron Sorkin” from GQ:
A song in a musical works best when a character has to sing— when words won’t do the trick anymore. The same idea applies to a long speech in a play or a movie or on television. You want to force the character out of a conversational pattern. In the pilot of The Newsroom, a new series for HBO, TV news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) emotionally checked out years ago, and now he’s sitting on a college panel, hearing the same shouting match between right and left he’s been hearing forever, and the arguments have become noise. A student asks what makes America the world’s greatest country, and Will dodges the question with glib answers. But the moderator keeps needling him until…snap.
It’s not the greatest country in the world, professor, that’s my answer.
[pause] You’re saying—
Let’s talk about—
Start off easy. First get rid of the two noisemakers.
Fine. [to the liberal panelist] Sharon, the NEA is a loser. Yeah, it accounts for a penny out of our paychecks, but he [gesturing to the conservative panelist] gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money, it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so fuckin’ smart, how come they lose so GODDAM ALWAYS!
The use of inappropriate language has a purpose—the filter’s off.
And [to the conservative panelist] with a straight face, you’re going to tell students that America’s so starspangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom, Japan has freedom, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom. Two hundred seven sovereign states in the world, like 180 of them have freedom.
The fact-dump that’s coming now serves several purposes. It backs up his argument, it reveals him to be exceptional (what normal person has these stats at their fingertips?), but mostly it’s musical. This is the allegro.
And you—sorority girl—yeah—just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know, and one of them is that there is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies. None of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are without a doubt, a member of the WORST-period-GENERATION-period-EVER-period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about?! Yosemite?!!!
[Cell-phone cameras are everywhere— people are tweeting and texting away.]
Now we slow down and get a glimpse into his pain. The oratorical technique is called “floating opposites”— we did, we didn’t, we did, we didn’t… But rhythmically you don’t want this to be too on the money. You’re not just testing the human ear anymore; you want people to hear what he’s saying.
We sure used to be. We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons. We waged wars on poverty, not poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest. We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men. We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, and we didn’t scare so easy. And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed. By great men, men who were revered. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one—America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.
To resolve a melody, you have to end on either the tonic or the dominant. (Try humming “Mary Had a Little Lamb” right now, but leave off “snow.” You’ll feel like you need to sneeze.) So Will ends where he started. Then, just to acknowledge that he just sang an aria— which is unusual in the course of a normal conversation—he turns to the moderator who’d been needling him and casually asks…
[to moderator] Enough?
From Jimmy Kimmel’s fantastic interview in the newest (and always fantastic) GQ, which you can read here.
Jimmy talks about dressing as Jay Leno, and then skewering Jay on his own show, but it’s this bit that I love. He’s talking about the big numbers of late night advertising, which is why Jay was always number one. But what he says, that they’re just there to get people to watch commercials, is true for scripted and un-scripted shows in prime time across the networks. Jimmy acknowledges he’s the monkey spinning plates.
Advertising, as demonstrated in the upfronts, is how pilots and schedules get decided. Advertising is why the Neislen ratings (which are so outdated in their usefulness and existence) are the de-facto bar for what is “successful”.
Fictionalized scenario: At an upfront, Network A will screen the pilot for Cop Show B, and Advertiser C will give the network $$$ if they like Cop Show B. Or they won’t. If a lot of Advertisers give a lot of $$$ for Cop Show B, it’ll air in the fall on Monday night and all those Advertisers will look at those Neilsen numbers the next morning to make sure all of us good viewers were watching. And when the Neilsen numbers show that nobody was watching, the Advertisers will look at Network A and say “What the fuck? Where’s our consumers?” And Network A will say “Uh, next week we’ll move Cop Show B to Fridays and we’ll run Dancing With Midgets Who Investigate Crime Scenes instead.” And the Advertisers will go “Great!” and Cop Show B will air two more episodes nobody will watch and then it’s 250 person crew will be unemployed.
(Even though Cop Show B could have been watched by millions of people, downloaded on iTunes and watched on DVR’s and watched on HULU, it doesn’t matter because across America in homes just like yours someone is sitting there writing down what they “supposedly” just watched on TV, or they’re writing down what their 18 year old daughter “watched” or they forget or they make it up. And those Neilsen kits are mailed off or collected or analyzed that night, and each of those homes represent 5 million homes because, hey, EVERYONE IN THAT AREA WITH THOSE KINDS OF KIDS AND THAT KIND OF HOUSE AND THOSE KINDS OF LIVES must watch the same television shows.)
Anyways, it’s yet another great issue of GQ, one of my favorite magazines. It also features a killer interview with Jeff Bridges and Chuck Klosterman talks to Jonathan Frazen. Also, theres some pretty pictures.