The Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour has stretched on for almost two weeks now. With TV critics from all over the world cooped up in a hotel ballroom for very long days, we're all getting a bit punchy.
Needless to say, it was poor timing for a show that could be called the biggest critical punching bag of the new season, HBO's "The Newsroom," to host its panel. There was quite a bit of chatter on Twitter about how horrible this panel would be. Would the female critics ask multiple questions, then clumsily count them off on their fingers, a la the show's MacKenzie McHale? Would the entire panel turn into a stalemate, or would creator Aaron Sorkin have sensible defenses for the choices the show has made? And would anyone stand up to give the show a compliment?
(It should be noted that I really enjoy the show, and wrote a piece in defense of the "The Newsroom" before it premiered, but I don't choose public panels as the place to publicly praise or eviscerate anything. Just a choice.)
So which way did the panel go? Keep reading for highlights from the critical chat with star Jeff Daniels, creator Aaron Sorkin and executive producer Alan Poul, including a premiere date for Season 2, a tease of this week's new episode and a few big rumors that Sorkin cleared up ...
Season 2 gets a (rough) premiere date
"Season 2 will be back on the air in June ," Sorkin said, noting that the show will always be about 12-18 months behind the current news cycle.
On tough reviews
"I want to make a clear distinction between me and the characters that are in the show. I -- most of the time -- write about things I don't know much about. The political opinions that I have are at the level of sophistication of a person who has a BFA in musical theater," Sorkin said with a laugh.
"For sure we all know that there were critics who did not enjoy watching the first 4 episodes -- and there were critics that did. Anytime that people are talking this much about a television show, it's good for television ... good for people who watch television and good for people who work in television," Sorkin said.
But Daniels had his own take on the critics: "I've gotta be honest with you -- I completely get why you do what you do, God bless you, but you don't do it for me. It took me a long time as an actor to stop reading you. You love me, you hate me ... where do I go?" He later added, as a loud aside to Sorkin, "Did I just offend all of them? I did!"
On reaction to criticism of the female characters
"I completely respect that opinion, but I one hundred percent disagree with it," Sorkin said when asked why it's only the women on the show who make mistakes. "The female characters are the equals of the men ... and we plainly see them being good at their jobs."
"One of the things I like about Aaron's writing is all of his characters, men and women, have flaws," Daniels said. "They all have flaws."
"I disagree about the asymmetry [of the character flaws] -- what Jeff said is one hundred percent right," Sorkin added. "We present Will's mission to civilize as something everyone rolls their eyes at and something that always blows up in his face. Hubris in this show is always punished. Men and women screw up in the same way." Sorkin cited that where Maggie (Alison Pill) mistook Georgia the state for Georgia the country in Episode 5, Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) thought that penguins lived on the wrong pole.
The rumor mill, debunked
Sorkin had a few things he wanted to clear up, including the fact that the "Newsroom" writing staff was not actually fired.
"A couple of weeks ago an un-sourced and untrue story appeared in the Internet that then got picked up: The writing staff was not fired. Just seeing that in print is scaring the hell out of the writing staff," Sorkin added with a laugh. "They're acting very strange -- they're coming to work early ... [laughs]. I love the writing staff -- I thought that we did great this year, and it's a fantastic group to work with. We had a ball. A couple of staffing changes were made that included promoting our two writer's assistants to story editors, but the writing staff hasn't been fired -- I'm looking forward to coming back to work with them soon."
Sorkin also cleared up a rumor about Corinne Kingsbury, a staff writer on the show (who also made a brief cameo as a stripper in "The Newsroom" in Episode 5), saying he never had a romantic relationship with her. "She was identified as my ex-girlfriend -- she is not."
Hindsight isn't always 20/20
"I set [the show] in the past so I could use real news. I didn't do it so that I could leverage hindsight into making our characters smarter at stuff," Sorkin said, adding, "If our guys do something right, there is never a time when someone else didn't get it right, too."
A non-spoilery tease
This week's episode (Sun., Aug. 5, 10 p.m. ET on HBO) takes place the night we got Osama bin Laden. Sorkin specifically said that that's not a spoiler.
And the most telling quote of the day
"I've only ever tried to write things the way I write," Sorkin said. "I haven't tried to figure out what it is that most people will like and give it to them."
Tell us: Are you enjoying "The Newsroom"? Are you excited to see more?
"The Newsroom" airs Sundays, 10 p.m. ET on HBO.
"There was nobody [to study for this role]. Aaron never said, 'By the way, it's based on so-and-so.' It was always Will McAvoy, and it was easier that way. They did a lot of research on the setting and the environment, and I've been in a lot of newsrooms over the years plugging movies, so I was aware. We created our own guy, this kind of fictionalized version of what it is, to see if we can't do it well enough that you can believe we dropped him in the middle of the guys that really exist."
"She's one of those people that's very put together when it comes to organizing her professional life, although she does it in a kind of demented way. And then when it comes to going home at night, she's a total mess. She's a bull in a china shop. I think Aaron likes creating these scenarios where people who are very expert in what they do fuck up. Seeing them hopeless, and seeing them grapple with ridiculous situations -- in Episode 2, she's such a proficient person, and yet she does something so demented and so stupid. I love it."
"I love him! I think he's a very reasonable man unless provoked ... and there's a lot of provocation."
"Don's a pragmatist -- he is, sort of, his majesty's loyal opposition. Don is there to really ask the questions: Why are we doing this? Is this the best idea? Do we really want to be saying this right now? It's thrilling."
"I think with Margaret, it's that ultimate struggle. I know many people -- nice, smart people -- suffer from that problem of should loyalty be first or should it be my career first? That dilemma is not unusual to a lot of people. I think in her case, it just becomes clear that she's not the type of girl who would ever jump ship. Loyalty comes first, and she really wants to be part of a good news team."
"I think what puts Jim in a position for people to see things through his eyes is he's so amazing at what he does. He's great at being a news man, he's fearless when it comes to going and being embedded in Afghanistan. But when it comes to basic day-to-day social skills, he's lacking because he puts everything -- all of his effort -- into doing his job really well. So when it comes to simple things like trying to ask a girl out that he likes, he falls to pieces. He's so confident and competent in one realm, but then if he spins around, he's a mess."
"She's the financial analyst for the show. She's extremely educated, and she's strong and passionate, but when it comes to her personal life, she's socially awkward -- and she knows it, and she doesn't really care because she has more important things to do. I didn't have to put on big, baggy clothes or put on a turtleneck. She's like, 'I'm a woman and it doesn't really matter how you look at me, because I have a brain.' That's a really important message for young girls and women, that you don't have to be one or the other."
"Kendra is smart, but the rug has been pulled out from underneath her feet. You do your shot, you're at the top of the ratings and if it ain't broke, don't fix it ... and then someone comes and breaks it, and then you have to adjust if you want to keep the job."
"Gary is very dedicated to the news. You find that he's gotten into the news to do the news, so this new introduction of News 2.0 is awesome, to be able to do news honestly and with a hopeful hint. He also has this little rivalry with Kendra. They're all no longer wallflowers at work -- something has woken them up, and they're like, 'Yes, I will stay overnight!'"
"My character is kind of the behind-the-scenes guy, the backbone, the director. I'm the guy stuck in the cave with the headset on, working the booth. As we progress this season, you'll start to see a little more, and a lot of dialogue between myself and Emily's character. Jake drank the Kool-Aid -- he's really on board and really believes in Will's mission."
"I always find that fun as an audience member, when the audience knows more than the characters, and the characters have to catch up. Hitchcock knew that when we got to see the monster behind the corner and the person didn't know it was there. Sometimes I do it the other way. But here, Episode 7 is the night we got Bin Laden. The whole audience is going to know that's what it is when our guys are trying to put clues together with these strange tweets and texts they're getting. I find that fun."
"Well the whole reason -- OK, not the whole reason -- but a little bit of the reason why I did this show is I thought I'd get the chance to meet Chris Matthews, who I have a huge crush on. And actually his son is in the show, and I haven't managed to meet him yet. He was at the screening in New York, and I didn't find out until I'd gone home ... the poor guy is dreading meeting me, I'm sure, because I've told everybody that I've got a crush on him."
"I watch the news that's on when I have time to watch the news. I've been watching a fair amount of MSNBC lately. I watch a lot of CNN. I don't watch a lot of Fox News, if that sort of tells you something."
"I get it all off my phone now. That's what I like most about social media and Twitter -- I follow a lot of news publications, and I find it's the fastest way to get whatever it is that's current. That's really where I turn for my news these days."
"Rachel Maddow. I have a really big crush on her. I don't know what I would do if I met her. I feel like she would make me feel special and smart."
"I like 'Moyers & Company.' I'm a PBS junkie. I have a hard time stomaching cable news, so Bill Moyers and Gwen Eiffel are my rockstars. Almost everybody on this line when asked, 'Who's your favorite anchor?' will say Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They're comedians. That says so much, by itself, of the state that our news organizations and news reporting is in. When your greatest political speeches and your greatest journalism is being delivered by comedians, it's really time to start asking questions. I'm sorry that people are offended by the fact that we're poking the media in the eye, but the fact of the matter is it needs to happen. We didn't expect people to be big fans of this, frankly, and we didn't expect that the media was going to be so thrilled with what we're doing. That's the point. Colbert and Stewart are great, but what happened to Cronkite?"
"Breaking news and emergencies, CNN. Commentary on something, I'd want to see what they're saying on Fox and I'd want to see what they're saying on MSNBC -- what are the extremes of the fight? It's not so much the network as who's appearing on the network -- there are certain analysts that I like, on both sides of the aisle. But my television's usually on ESPN. I'm watching college football more than I'm watching anything else."