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July 10, 2013

The Couch Potato: Cable news gets makeover with compelling series

NEW CASTLE — The TV gods (otherwise known as Directv) smiled upon the Couch Potato the past few weekends as free HBO, Showtime and Starz flowed through the magic airwaves and into our home.

The Couch Potato nearly burnt out the DVR player as whole seasons of premium cable television shows and hit movies were recorded nonstop for leisure-time viewing.

As I perused through my haul this past week, I was excited to watch movies like “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” with Steve Carrell and “Moonrise Kingdom” with Bill Murray. Both movies were very well done and the Couch Potato would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a quick tear during each.

For some reason, though, I kept skipping over the entire first season of a certain HBO show that I had recorded. I had heard it was good, but I wasn’t quite ready to dive in yet. I knew the premise of the show from seeing previews, but I didn’t know if I was quite sold on the idea.

Here is the premise: a veteran cable news anchor is forced to work with a new producer that just also happens to be his ex-girlfriend. The trials and tribulations of this duo and other office denizens are on full display in this workplace drama. This is HBO’s “The Newsroom.”

So I kept skipping it in the DVR queue because I wasn’t sure that I could handle all of that kind of drama, on top of the fact that nothing seems as boring as cable news.

Now the fact that cable news seems boring is not for lack of trying by networks like CNN and FOX News. The shows on these networks are filled with hype, sensationalism and over-the-top coverage of what each deems important. Jon Stewart has made a living on the ridiculousness of cable news as he lampoons and satirizes them each night on “The Daily Show” (which everyone should watch because it may be the most honest and clever show on TV, regardless of political affiliation).

But finally, over the weekend, I had exhausted my reservoir of new movies and the only semi-appealing thing left in the DVR was “The Newsroom.” I reluctantly pushed play on episode one, and much to my surprise, I fell in love with cable news.

But not right away. The first episode was a little clunky and contrived, but nevertheless a good setup of characters, setting and tone. The second episode drew me in a little further and by episode three, the Couch Potato was hooked.

Creator/writer/producer Aaron Sorkin, who is known for such shows and movies as “The West Wing,” “The Social Network” and ironically, “Sports Night,” which followed the daily happenings of a SportsCenter like program, has created a series that tries to explain to the viewer exactly what is wrong with cable news.

Sorkin did something incredibly creative by setting the show a year or two in the past. The first episode, which aired in 2012, covered the events of the BP oil spill that actually did occur in 2010. In other episodes, the real events of Egypt’s revolution and the attempted murder of Rep. Gabbie Giffords are used to drive the plot of how news is covered.

Now after watching the first five episodes, here is the REAL premise of “The Newsroom”: a cable news program revamps its coverage of world events in an attempt to give the viewer real facts in order to make informed decisions, while its own corporate office attempts to sabotage its own anchor in the name of political connections and the bottom line.

Now some of that sappy relationship stuff is thrown in there along the way, but don’t let it deter you from watching “The Newsroom.” The Couch Potato, who is really starting to question his manhood, would again be lying if I said I didn’t cry at the end of the episodes three AND four as “The Newsroom” staff defiantly told the news like it was meant to be told, consequences be damned.

I think Jon Stewart would be proud of what “The Newsroom” is trying to do.


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