I've known Alan Poul since he was a producer on that groundbreaking show "My So-Called Life" in 1994. Of course, I'd heard of him as a producer of "Tales of the City" the year before - but I hadn't had the chance to interview him then. Poul was articulate and compassionate about the significance of showing the struggles of LGBT youth, played with painful sensitivity on "My So-Called Life" by Wilson Cruz. But it wasn't until we strayed outside the boundaries of the interview that I realized how incredibly smart and expansively well read and interesting entertainment producer Alan Poul really was.
GetEqual protests Don't Ask, Don't Tell on April 20, 2010 at White House fence
So when I saw that he was an executive producer for Aaron Sorkin's take on broadcast journalism with HBO's "The Newsroom" - I couldn't wait to see what these two thinkers would come up with. As someone who'd clerked on the Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather evening news shows, I agree with my old boss who liked it in a review for Gawker.
Sure, I've got my nits to pick with it; and, no, it's not perfect. But there's a lot to like in what Sorkin and his cast have done here. There is a newsroom authenticity to what's presented and much that gets to the heart of modern American journalism's problems.
There is a battle for the soul of the craft that goes on daily now in virtually every newsroom in the country. It's a fight that matters, not just for journalists but for the country. It centers on whether news reporting is to be considered and practiced--to any significant degree, even a little--as a public service, in the public interest, or is to exist solely as just another money-making operation for owners of news outlets.
My mild criticism and how GetEqual is relevant to the story after the break.
As with some other reviewers, I had my problems with the speechifying at times, as eloquent as the quotes from Cervantes and/or The Man From La Mancha might have been. I especially liked how the main character - anchorman Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels - snapped at the platitudes pontificated by both the left and the right at a university forum and told students the truth about how America is no longer the finest country in the world, citing statistical evidence. The price McAvoy had to pay for telling the truth - described later by News Director Charlie Skinner, played by Sam Waterson, as having "an opinion" - is the set up for the first episode.
It was a kind of déjà vu for me - I would have been the character bringing McAvoy the notes seconds before he went on air. And that's one of the few problems I had with the show: while getting the breaking news out about the BP oil disaster played like a thriller, it was WAY to cleanly handled. I promise you, in a situation like that - it is total CHAOS and tensions are so high, you can understand why so many of us became alcoholics.
But hey, I thought, Alan Poul is an executive producer and there's no gay stuff. And then in the last scene between McAvoy and his ex-girl friend and new executive producer, MacKenzie McHale, played by Emily Mortimer, the TV news report playing in the background was about GetEqual chaining themselves to the White House fence to protest Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I could see Dan Choi clearly.
I had totally forgotten that the day the news first broke about BP - April 20, 2010 - was the same day of the GetEqual protest. Now let's remember - this is a dramatic, scripted show: that piece playing in the background was put there! Hell, they may have even produced that background TV news spot themselves because I caught a repeated shot of a close up of the hands bound on the fence that any TV news producer with plenty of footage would not have allowed.
I felt like a kid finding the first colored egg during a competitive Easter Egg hunt. Alan Poul left that for us to discover. We're there, we're in the background. We're part of the news. It's just BP was bigger this day. Subtle, but very smart.
Now I can't wait to see what else there is to discover as the show explores the newsroom relationships and what my old boss Dan Rather called, the "battle for the soul of the craft" of journalism. I like this so much better than another show with vampires as metaphors.