July 5, 2012
No business like the news business: Aaron Sorkin on ‘Newsroom’
Aaron Sorkin, the playwright, television writer and Oscar-winning screenwriter of “The Social Network,” is causing a stir with his new HBO series, “The Newsroom,” about the inside antics of a cable news show and its commentary on American journalism. Sorkin’s “The West Wing” and “Sports Night,” among others, have earned the veteran show creator a reputation for intense examinations of institutional milieus — government, sports and now the news industry. He’s also distinguished himself through his style of writing, famous for its prolix dialogue, withering wit and moral idealism, for which he ranks among the most literary of Hollywood writers. In an e-mail interview, Sorkin expounded on the journalism he trusts, how he copes with bad reviews and the unique rewards of having a daughter.
“The Newsroom” is an indictment, specifically, of cable TV news but makes broader commentary about the culture of American journalism. What led to your disappointment in news media or at least provoked you enough to want to write a show about it?
When you want to be informed, what sources do you rely on? What people or publications do you most trust?
There have been some harsh reviews about “The Newsroom.” The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum wrote, “ ‘The Newsroom’ gets so bad so quickly that I found my jaw dropping,” and Maureen Ryan wrote on Huffington Post that she found it “obvious and self-congratulatory,” “manipulative and shrieky.” But, these same writers use words like “Sorkinese” and “Sorkinian” to describe the show’s style, which indicates their perception that your writing has established a new film and television lexicon — a high compliment. At this point in your career, how seriously do you take reviews of your work? How do they affect you personally?
Your work is noted for being high-minded, idea-driven and zeitgeist-y. But it also has romance and relationship. Which area interests or concerns you more: matters of the heart or the head?
During a recent interview on “The Today Show,” you talked about your early discomfort being in the public eye and how your arrest for drug possession forced you to be more open about your image. Do you still feel you have to play a certain role for your audience? Or have you become more comfortable allowing your public image to reflect your true nature?
You told The New York Times, “If writing is going well, I’m happy. If writing isn’t going well, there is nothing that is going to make me happy. Except my 11-year-old daughter, who always makes me happy.” What has surprised you most about being a parent? Has having a daughter changed or deepened your understanding of women?
When asked about the Steve Jobs biopic you will soon write, you ruminated on the theme a bit and then said, “Now all I have to do is turn that into three acts with an intention, obstacle, exposition, inciting action, reversal, climax and denouement, and make it funny and emotional, and I’ll be in business.” Is your writing process more an adherence to structure or an innate, streaming sense of drama?
Aside from obvious things like wealth and that Oscar, in terms of your own self-understanding, what’s been the best benefit of success?
If you were ever to take a break from the Hollywood grind, how would you spend your time?