HBO’s ‘Newsroom’ Gets Dim Reviews in D.C.

By Eddie Scarry and Betsy Rothstein

HBO’s drama Newsroom debuted Sunday night. The series tells the story of an easily agitated cable news anchor played by Jeff Daniels who has a public meltdown at Northwestern University resulting in a mass exodus of his staff. What’s a newsroom without a resident alcoholic, a wonk and a love triangle? Sam Waterston plays the drunken president of ACN who tells Daniels privately that he loved the meltdown. Dev Patel plays a perfect wonk. Who wouldn’t love to have him on their news team? A former love interest played by Emily Mortimer takes over his program as executive producer with plans to shake up the newscast for better or worse. And the love triangle: Daniels’ assistant played by Alison Pill is seeing an arrogant ass of a reporter (Thomas Sadoski) in the newsroom who doesn’t want to get too serious. Will she shack up with the new guy played by John Gallagher (check him out below)? Stay tuned…

Gawker published a favorable review by broadcasting legend Dan Rather. If subsequent episodes are as good as the first, he wrote, “then [Newsroom creator] Aaron Sorkin has a winner.”

ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper was less kind. In TNR, he called the show “sadly disappointing.” Similarly negative reviews were published in the NYT, WaPo and The New Yorker magazine.

We asked around to see what Washington’s media thought about the show. Sadly the viewing community, minus Slate‘s Dave Weigel, wasn’t large. And among those who watched, most abhorred it while a small minority of journalists are on the fence and plan to keep watching.

“Didn’t watch… don’t plan to… why do I want to spend my down time watching a fictionalized account of what I supposedly do for a living?” — NBC’s Chuck Todd

“So badly do I but I don’t get HBO despite trying to get it specifically so I could watch this show. I need someone to rent me a living room with HBO next weekend so I can check it out.” — RCP’s Erin McPike

“Going into the show I was highly skeptical, but you know I was entertained. Was it the west wing? No.  True to life? no (I’ve never seen a bottle of whiskey in my newsroom) but a quality first outing. I think it got the energy of a newsroom right. I’ll watch next week.One knock, but its kind of part of the Sorkin playbook…it got a touch preachy. I do wish the newsroom had a breaking news siren or something. — ABC7’s Kris Van Cleave

“Not sure I feel one way or another about it yet. I did identify with some of the situations, the environment and some of the characters, but I wasn’t fully convinced. Plus, the best part was the on-stage meltdown. It slowed considerably after that. Enjoyable but not addictive – at least not yet.” — CNN’s Matt Dornic

“I got rid of cable when I was watching too many “real” housewives. When I found myself wasting my time watching Kimmie’s wig pulled off on the streets of Atlanta – and my kids glued to Cartoon Network – cable had to go … Leaves me more time to read Fishbowl.” — ABC7’s Rebecca Cooper

“If the point of The Newsroom was to leave West Wing fans feeling a bit embarrassed, Sorkin succeeded. However, I am excited to share this experience with Twitter until the show ends.” — The Heritage Foundation’s Director of Communications Rory Cooper

“Didn’t watch. Think I’ll wait then tackle three or four episodes in one sitting.”– Politico‘s Dylan Byers

“Didn’t watch, though did enjoy Sorkin’s A Few Good Men on (I think) TNT Saturday”– Politico‘s Alex Burns

“I did, largely because 1) the negative reviews/profiles were so succulent and 2) I needed to procrastinate. Maybe Dan Rather is right, and people in print media just don’t understand whether or not this feels REAL. (When I do MSNBC, I’m sort of an in-and-out guest in the newsrooms and studios, so I have not seen a newsroom burst into action to chase down BP statements.) That said… seriously, they broke the BP story wide open because they ran with the new guy’s two sources? Isn’t that how the Paris correspondent gets in trouble in “The Imperfectionists”?”– Slate’s Weigel.

“I am probably the only person in D.C. whose job it is to write about entertainment and did not tune in. I’ll watch it when I get home tonight, but from all of the scathing reviews I have pretty low expectations, which is disappointing because I love a good walk and talk. I have “Sports Night” queued up on Netflix in case I need to cleanse my palette afterward.”– The Daily Caller‘s Taylor Bigler

“I turned off HBO after True Blood, the Newsroom’s plot just seemed too dark and twisted.” — USA Today‘s Jackie Kucinich

“Tedious.” — The Daily Caller‘s TV Reporter Jeff Poor

“No, didn’t watch watch it and won’t watch it.. I work in a newsroom. Why in god’s name would I then go home and watch a show about working in a newsroom? Give me an episode of Game of Thrones!” — NBC’s Andy Gross

“I thought it was mostly fun, albeit pretty melodramatic with the various speeches, especially the ones delivered by the Brit woman. Plenty of news organizations are “popular” without pandering to one audience or another. Thought Jeff Daniels was great as a cynical, beaten-down new sguy who could have been a print or digital person as well as a TV one.” — BusinessWeek‘s Bryan Gruley

“I didn’t watch. I’m lame.” — NYT‘s Mark Leibovich

“Sorry, In ATL this week for a conference. Didn’t see it.” — HuffPost‘s Christina Wilkie

See more responses from Washington journos…

“I haven’t seen it yet. (But still hope to.. Sorkin and newsrooms? Hard to resist.)” — Washington Examiner‘s Kytja Weir

“My wife won’t let me get HBO. So I have to depend on real newsroom stories about the fake Newsroom story on HBO.”– Washington Examiner‘s Paul Bedard

“The first fifteen minutes were so turn off worthy, had I not known it was a Sorkin production would have flipped the channel.  Would have preferred the lead in to be the old newscast headlines with the Cronkites of the past or anything else, but who am I to say, I’m no Aaron Sorkin.  There is of course humor in those opening scenes with the cable TV talk show hosts and panelists debating – er shouting –  we watch that everyday and the superior attitude of the hosts and panelists amusing.  From that point on in the show however, loved it, so true to the real newsroom and the casting director should get an A+.  Also liked the humor, especially when lead character played by Jeff Bridges sticks his head into the control room to thank his production team only to realize he is in the wrong chambers.  Will definitely follow the show.” — Hollywood on the Potomac‘s Janet Donovan. (Editor’s note: It was actually Jeff Daniels, but Bridges was widely confused Daniels in this role.)

“”The Newsroom” was pretty good. Pretty good in the sense that it reminded me why I left the TV news business in the first place many years ago. And why I’ll never go back. The brilliant answer by Jeff Daniels to the “Why is America the Greatest Country” encapsulated so much of what’s wring with the business. The two pinheads on either side of him babbling in their bullshit bumper sticker talking head thing, going at it – and low-hanging fruit oriented TV producers and executives eating it up because it’s cheap, entertaining filler. Then along comes Daniels, who tells the truth. A talking head like that in real life doesn’t play well on TV because it takes too long to make the point. It’s too honest, it’s too damning of the system and it tells people what they don’t want to hear: namely that they’re dumb, arrogant and narcissistic. That doesn’t go over well either because everyone thinks they’re special, everyone thinks they’re highly evolved, highly intelligent beings. Unless you watch, say “60 Minutes” you rarely hear talking heads on TV saying things like that anymore. Mustn’t be Debbie Downer, everything’s great! It was said long ago that television is a vast wasteland – but when FCC commissioner Newt Minnow said that in 1961, he wasn’t referring to the news business. Now he could.” — West Wing Report’s Paul Brandus.