HBO’s original series NEWSROOM is far and away the most intelligent program on television. Anywhere. Perhaps of all time. Several thoughts come to mind.
Number one: Granted, this used to be a rather easy thing to say of course — if one ever had the opportunity (rare) to encounter an intelligent program on TV in days past, because TV used to be infamous for its sole role as the premier purveyor of the worst the world had to dump on itself. But all that changed over the last ten years exactly as I predicted when explaining one of the primary Signatures of the Age of Personal Expression (which we are at least waist deep in by now, at least), i.e. “We are about to enter a new golden age of American television, a renaissance of great television the likes of which we have never experienced before, where it may as a medium even surpass film, most likely never literature or journalism one would assume, in it’s brilliance to captivate engage move inspire educate and entertain.” “The Great American Television Renaissance” is what the Signature is still referred to as when we work on the project. And we, like anyone else paying attention as of late, are in awe of it.
Not only have B and occasional A list Hollywood celebs hopped on the TV train, but more importantly (much more importantly) so have big name Hollywood film writers and directors. Though we haven’t peaked quite yet in the Personal Expression Age itself, in terms of what it has the potential to do — what it has the directive and mandate and obligation to do — this particular Signature, of TV, is flying high; it’s hit it’s zenith. Television today is as good as any other form of entertainment in the world today. If you know where to look that is.
A second thought: think about what you just said old boy…. NEWSROOM IS good…but the MOST intelligent program on television?!? The Transcendence Diaries by their very nature are prone to hyperbolic claims and exclamations. No one would read them if they weren’t. So is this nothing but a quick fix, a one off jolt of hyperbolic frenzy instigated by the emotions this particular show so elegantly elicits in all of its viewers, one that you may regret come morning once you come down off this high and have the opportunity to think more clearly about the substance of such a statement?
Surely there are other shows on American television that are good. Great even. But we aren’t talking about good or great TV. We are talking about intelligent. In the not too distant past one could point to Sunday Morning News shows as being intelligent television; but besides the aging yet ever youthful McLaughlin Group and GPS with Fareed Zakaria, our beloved once reliable traditional staples known as Sunday morning news shows as a whole have gone the way of all TV news (and the general direction of the American political system, just as an aside, albeit a heartbreaking one) — hype pomp shock schlock rumors gossip gotchas and gimmes, with very little in the way of trustworthy news reporting, let alone anything remotely resembling intelligence.
One could of course fall back on any number of the programming still being aired by the PBS network regularly, and to be fair as a whole PBS still stands tallest when it comes to “most intelligent television programming” overall. They hit it out of the park with their rabbit out of the hat resuscitation of Masterpiece Theatre by way of Downton Abbey — not only reviving a long thought barely breathing franchise, but were so successful in it that they’ve now managed to spin it off into three separate programs: the classic Masterpiece, then Masterpiece Mystery and now their latest Masterpiece Contemporary — all pretty decent programming IF that’s your thing. Not bad for a long running show that no one even knew still existed ten years ago.
And PBS still delivers the most reliable respectful trustworthy intelligent and hype-free nightly news show on TV. They don’t pander nor patronize their projected audience. They aren’t too busy trying to “make news” to report on actual real news events transpiring in today’s world. Something the other four networks seem to have completely forgotten how to do. In fact let’s face it: the other four networks, ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, have been so busy chasing the slutty foul smelling tail of cable news — quite possibly the most wretched invention of the latter half of the 20th century, right up there with the atomic bomb, Al Qaeda and The Kardashians — that it fully appears that network news divisions have even forgotten that THAT’S precisely what they were supposed to be doing, reporting the news, not trying to make it on their own, nor make it up as they go along.
Honorable Mention goes to The Charlie Rose Show — for if it weren’t for NEWSROOM, then surely Most Intelligent Show on Television would still be all his, as it has been for a decade at least. The Charlie Rose Show is still the one safe harbor any educated person of intellect can pull into for an hour and not only not be insulted but be seriously and sincerely intrigued and stimulated intellectually. Charlie Rose too is a PBS property.
So yes PBS certainly deserves First Place for Most Intelligent Television Network. But this isn’t about networks. It’s about single programs. And as anyone alive or awake in the last three years has noticed, nothing comes even close to the jaw dropping death defying dialog audiences are afforded each week when NEWSROOM airs on HBO. The scripts, or as he likes to call them the Teleplays, are penned by the inimitable Aaron Sorkin, (A Few Good Men, The Social Network). For many many years Sorkin has been infamous for many things: a hard leaning liberal who throws too much of his own personal politics into his art, a maddening person to work with, a drug fiend, an obsessive compulsive who admittedly showers five to six times a day, but more than anything else, a brilliant writer.
And indeed IF his style is something you enjoy or can bare then there isn’t much in this world that feels better than bathing in a sea of his words and sentences. Rapid fire dialogues between intensely interesting characters about actual matters of substance. Rare stuff indeed for television. And yet he pulls it off. One might tag that last line with “only on HBO…” And that may have been true at one point. Game of Thrones, Veep, Silicon Valley, True Detective… All HBO commodities. (Lest we forget they’re also responsible for bringing us the truly wretched GIRLS, nuff said…) But plenty of other brilliant shows now float about on other equally noteworthy and deserving networks such as AMC. So that mantle holds more than just one trophy with more than just one network name on it. And I predict that it is only going to continue to get more and more crowded up there as more creatives and audiences alike begin to discover the merits and potential of television as the new and exciting medium it has become.
In the meantime we still have — unfortunately — at least four more mind tingling, heart stopping episodes of NEWSROOM to view this season. Come Emmy time — if one subscribes to the idea of picking “favorites” or “number ones” (which I personally don’t, as everyone knows — (I believe there is and can be no such thing) then no one in that room will deserve that statue more than Aaron Sorkin for what he manages to do with NEWSROOM. That mind of his is a rare breed and a national treasure. For all the attention our society focuses on soulless technology and empty celebrity, it is people like Aaron Sorkin who illuminate just how powerful the simple written word can be still. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching NEWSROOM, I envy you. Do so as soon as possible.
Honorable Mentions need to be handed out to Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and occasionally The Good Wife. (Though their story is another one entirely — one we simply don’t have the time nor desire to get into at this moment, though not one not worth telling, for it is consistently a better than most television show with occasionally brilliant writing and a stellar often times all-star cast. But it far too often succumbs to the limitations of network TV. Again, another post we’ll address that subject).
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