How Real is ‘The Newsroom?’ Real TVNewsers Speak Out

By Gail Shister 

No one expects total realism from HBO’s “The Newsroom,” but a scene in Sunday’s Season 2- opener would be virtually impossible in real life, technically speaking, say numerous network professionals.

In the segment, an off-site reporter for cable news network ACN dictates a few words of important corrected information – via cellphone — for his package, which is then instantaneously re-tracked in the control room just in the nick of time on Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) show.

“Any suggestion you can drop new audio into a package a few seconds before air is definitely unrealistic; make that impossible,” says Candy Crowley, anchor of CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’

“I’ve seen some very exciting things happen in the control room,” says David Westin, ABC News president from 1997 through 2010, “but I never saw anything like that, or even heard about it. I can’t imagine running that kind of risk.”

Ditto, says CNN weekend anchor Don Lemon. “I’ve never seen nor heard of anyone adding audio via cellphone. Some people do narrate on their iPads, but it sounds like crap.”

Rand Morrison, executive producer of  “CBS News Sunday Morning,” argues that the “huge” difference in audio quality would be “a small price to pay for accuracy.” He describes the ‘Newsroom’ scenario as “far-fetched, but not inconceivable. “

Sue Green of Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism, formerly executive director at New York’s WABC, agrees that it can be done, but it shouldn’t have to be. “If the reporter had done his job correctly in the first place, the fix would not have been needed. That’s what is important here.”

Regardless, Green is a ‘Newsroom’ fan, particularly of executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer.) “I can relate to having an anchor who doesn’t listen, and the frustrations an EP has to go through in dealing with feelings and egos” of a newsroom.

Speaking of egos, any similarities between McAvoy and the late, great Peter Jennings, David Westin?

“He reminds me of Peter in the sense of his strong commitment to news and being willing to pursue stories without regard to their popularity. He’s charismatic. He has a temper. Peter had a temper, but he didn’t raise his voice. He didn’t need to.”

As for Will’s intransigence, Westin says: “As difficult as that can sometimes be, I would much rather have an anchor who feels strongly about news and editorial decisions than one who would just do what his producers wanted him to do.”

As pure entertainment, Westin says he “enjoys ‘Newsroom’ immensely. It uses a fair amount of dramatic license, but that doesn’t take away from illustrating important principles.”

CNN’s Lemon admits he is envious of McAvoy’s popularity in the newsroom. “I wish my team would applaud me when I come off the set,” he deadpans.

Mary Matalin, a former CNN talking head, likes “Newsroom” but isn’t in love with it – much to the chagrin of her eldest daughter, Matty, “She bitch slaps me on a regular basis for not drooling over it,” Matalin says.

“I give it an A for good female characters, a B for effort, and an Incomplete for bias.”