20 things we learned from the ‘Newsroom’ PaleyFest Panel

03.04.13 5 years ago 19 Comments

Kevin Parry for Paley Center for Media

The cast of HBO’s ” The Newsroom” gathered at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theater on Sunday (March 3) night to moderate An Evening With Piers Morgan.
Over the course of 80 minutes, the stars and producers of HBO’s Golden Globe nominated drama coaxed Morgan out of his shy shell and got him to tell stories about his recent interactions with new CNN boss Jeff Zucker, an unfortunate power outage in Atlanta during the Oscars red carpet and, most importantly, his opinions on the sequester. 
Morgan was so self-effacing an uncomfortable in the spotlight that periodically he attempted to turn the questions around on his interrogators to get the cast of “Newsroom” to discuss their own opinions on their fictional version of cable news, but those moments were the exceptions, rather than the rule. So embarrassed was Morgan to be in the spotlight and to have all of this attention directed at him, that he periodically recited interview quotes back at the actors on the panel or confused actors with the characters they play on TV or inquired about where Dev Patel gets his cardigans or initiated gambits like, “Olivia [Munn]. Let’s talk about sex for a moment.”
After an hour, when the cast of “Newroom” opened the floor to questions from the audience, a confused audience attempted to revolt and ask questions of the “Newroom” team, but that’s just the danger of a democratized event like this.
I contemplated doing a 20 things we learned about Piers Morgan from the “Newroom” PaleyFest Panel blog post, but that would actually be far easier than doing 20 things we learned about “Newroom.” And I prefer to take on the big challenges. Because I’m a journalist. Like Piers Morgan. 
Click through for the 20… And yes. There will be minor spoilers.
20) We know the timeframe for “Newroom” Season 2. Don’t worry, fans. “Newroom” didn’t take one of the “Mad Men”-style wild leaps into the future. It’s still in the past, but it’s getting to be a more recent past. “Season 2 begins a week after Season 1 ended, a week after Will went on the air and called the Tea Party ‘The American Taliban’ and it goes through just a little bit after the election, the November election,” Sorkin promises.
19) We know some of the “real world” things that will happen this season. Sorkin teases. “We have the election and the primaries and we have Trayvon Martin and the Supreme Court’s decision on The Affordable Care Act, drones…” At the moment, Sorkin is writing Episode 5 and he has yet to determine if he’s going to tackle Newtown/Sandy Hook on the show.
18) Let’s be honest: Aaron Sorkin is going to write about Sandy Hook. The first time Piers Morgan asked Sorkin if he was going to talk about guns and Newtown, Sorkin was bashful. “That’s a tough thing to write about that without minimizing that or exploiting it or just spreading cheez whiz all over it. Obviously Newtown, it was a profoundly important moment to all of us and the last thing you want to do is handle it badly.” Morgan followed up and asked if it would be “a slight abrogation of its duty” if “Newsroom” did a season and excluded Sandy Hook, Sorkin hedged. “You could stop before Sandy Hook, but that’s the only way you could do it, but you couldn’t go til February and pretend Sandy Hook didn’t happen.” Sounds like 
17) Aaron Sorkin encourages improvisation from his actors. Well, that’s what he says, at least. “I, I think everyone here will agree, encourage it. The script is merely a jumping off point,” Sorkin says. And yes. He’s laughing and his face is red and Alison Pill immediately jumps in, “I will remind you of that on Monday.” Regarding improvisation, Sam Waterston says, “”You can what you will be sorry. Mostly because it dead-ends you, because there is a music in it.” Olivia Munn agrees. “I’ve done this. I’m like, ‘Hey, Aaron. Do you think that maybe this sounds better?’ And he’s like, ‘OK.’ And he’s so cool about it. He’s like, ‘Yeah. Let’s work it out. Let’s talk.’ And as you start to do it, you see people around you, the other actors start to go, ‘Hmmm.’ And then Aaron goes, ‘Well why don’t you try it like this?’ And you go and it’s like, ‘Well that does work.’ You’re like, ‘Oh. That’s exactly what was on the page.’ So you learn quickly, I learn quickly this is not an improv.”
16) Aaron Sorkin is hopeful that critics will give “Newsroom” a second shot. Attempting to goad Sorkin to tear into the nation’s TV critics, Morgan read a series of damning quotes from early reviews and asked for the auteur’s opinion, “I’m not setting out to polarize people and I’d prefer that everyone like the show, but I know that’s not going to happen,” Sorkin says. “I hope some of the critics who weren’t happy with the first season maybe take another look in the second and maybe reassess their opinion. You know what it comes down to? I can’t think of anyone who’s ever won a fight with a television critic. I doubt I’m going to be the first one and I’m not gonna try.”
15) Jeff Daniels doesn’t care if critics give “Newsroom” a second shot. As Jeff Daniels told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour last July, he’s the Honey Badger when it comes to reviews. “I don’t pretend not to read reviews. I just don’t,” Daniels says. He was a good deal harsher, by the way, when he talked to the TCA.
14) Before production began, Aaron Sorkin gave the actors a headshot of Aaron Sorkin. Piers Morgan read an interview in which Alison Pill said that Sorkin gave the cast a picture of himself as a present. Sorkin clarifies. “It was the first table read and everybody had a little bag at their place. I think it was the first two scripts, there was a ‘Newroom’ baseball cap, there was a fifth of Thunderbird and there was an 8X10 of me. It was just your normal stuff,” Sorkin laughs. “I did stick it on my wall for all of last year at the place I was subletting, because I would sit in the living room wanting to turn on the TV and then be like, ‘Uh-oh. He’s looking at me,'” Pill recalls.
13) Olivia Munn has very specific feelings about journalistic integrity. A journalism major at the University of Oklahoma and a former reporter/journalist, Munn was the panel’s most outspoken advocate of journalistic integrity and impartiality. Morgan began by asking Munn for her definition of journalism. “My definition of journalism is seeking out a truth and honesty and asking questions that raise other questions and get to the bottom of a story,” she says. But when asked about the celebrification of news, she had even more feelings. “I prefer to see Piers Morgan and Diane Sawyer just on the news and not on the red carpet, but that’s just me personally,” Munn says, referring either to CNN’s new red carpet coverage, or to the fact that Morgan worked the PaleyFest red carpet before the panel. [Morgan claimed he had to. I’ve been on dozens of PaleyFest red carpets without seeing the moderators.] “I like seeing my news anchors just be my news anchors and now when you turn on CNN, people are putting themselves into a story and people are tweeting things out,” she mocks. “I think people and especially journalists, they make themselves too much a part of the story, when journalism is really about other people’s stories.” Morgan squirmed and tried to justify himself for a while. The round most definitely went to Olivia Munn.
12) Alison Pill may not be invited back to work with Woody Allen. That’s probably not true. I highly doubt that Woody Allen makes his casting decisions based on comments actors make about having worked with him previously in response to questions from Piers Morgan on Los Angeles-based panels for HBO TV shows. Still, Morgan asked Pill to compare the two. “It’s apples and oranges,” she says. “It’s a matter of working with someone who’s like, ‘Eh. And then you do something like this and you work over here and then you go over there and blah blah blah,’ versus somebody who has such a vision. It’s not that Woody doesn’t have a specific vision, it’s just that if you don’t get it, you’re not going to.” Pill says. Ouch. “And Aaron is really intent on making his vision known and seen and is so involved in that. And it’s so contagious. I grew up with his voice in my head. I know it. I know all those movies. I know ‘Sports Night.’ I know ‘West Wing.’ I know ‘American President.’ They’re all my favorite things.”
11) Piers Morgan thinks the sequester is too boring to make interesting TV. Piers Morgan was telling his story of initially being skeptical of CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of the recent cruise ship kerfuffle and then realizing it was great programming and Sorkin asked if he thought there was any way to turn the same model to make the sequester great programming. “Honestly? No. I think the sequester is one of the most supremely boring story ever told on television…” Morgan says. “There are many politically stories which are just incredibly dry and trying to make them come to life, you can do it and you can do it with all of the tricks in television, in my experience, but it doesn’t rate…” Zzzz. The sequester is far less boring that Morgan’s lecture about the sequester.
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10) Aaron Sorkin disagrees that the sequester is too boring to make interesting TV. Sorkin let several other questions go by, including allowing Sam Waterston to talk about his addiction to cable news, before bringing things back. “I’m not ready to agree with you yet on the sequester,” he tells Morgan. “We’ve all had that teacher in high school, the American History teacher or Social Studies teacher that made some subject that you would think was very dry just come alive, they made it really exciting and just seems to me that adults would be susceptible to that too. I think that could happen.” If Season 3 of “Newroom” is All Sequester All The Time, we got the germ of that tonight.
9) The actors on “Newroom” do not actually work in TV news. John Gallagher Jr. doesn’t necessarily have a deep opinion on our 24-hour news cycle. Jeff Daniels isn’t necessarily going to give good quotes about prioritizing tabloid stories over legitimate news. And it’s not Alison Pill’s fault that her character is having a sexual relationship with a character she works with. 
8) It’s important to fact-check Aaron Sorkin stories. Sorkin told a long story about being with Sam Waterston at the Golden Globes and somebody asking Waterston if he’d ever won a Golden Globe and the actor not remembering. “Everybody got their phones out and started Googling. He’s won like five,” Sorkin crows. Half the people in the audience tweeted this funny story as either a reflection of Sam Waterston’s selflessness or his senility. Sam Waterston did, indeed, win a Golden Globe for “I’ll Fly Away” in 1993, but it’s his only Golden Globe win. And it’s a GOLDEN GLOBE. Let’s not make Sam Waterston sound more disconnected than he actually is.
7) Sam Waterston may not have won five Emmys, but he’s won Thomas Sadoski’s admiration. At some point in an interview, Sadoski described working with Waterston like getting an acting PhD. He elaborates, “I could go on and on and on about my feelings about Sam as an artist, but they would sort of pale in comparison to my feelings of Sam as a human being,” Waterston is clearly touched and Sadoski continues. “Sam is and has routinely proven to be, to me, to my eye, incredibly generous, but also a master of subtlety and honesty, which are two things I desperately needed to study up on when it came to working on television.”
6) Olivia Munn also has opinions on women being sexy and professionally capable. Piers Morgan may have dominated the panel and Aaron Sorkin may have occasionally gotten a few words in, but if you want my opinion on who “won” the PaleyFest panel, that would be Olivia Munn, who was also a revelation on “Newsroom.” Taking a question that began with “Olivia. Let’s talk about sex for a moment,” Munn made a smart manifesto of it. “A lot of times whenever I’d go out for a role or I’d get an opportunity to work on a show, if the character was smart or driven and strong, we had to cover up, cover up, cover up. I didn’t want Sloan to flaunt her femininity and her sexuality, but I didn’t want her to apologize for it either…” she says. Munn explained that she asked the costumer to give Sloan a sometimes-form-fitting wardrobe, both so that viewers would judge her based on it, but also so that viewers would judge themselves for judging her. “I have a niece who’s gonna be six and I want her growing up in a world where she can be smart and strong and sexy and beautiful and she doesn’t have one or the other.”
5) Speaking of Sloan… Get ready for some more Sloan-Don material. A Twitter question — from a username Munn recognized — asked about the advancing relationship between Don and Sloan. “If you’re a fan of Don and Sloan, I would definitely be watching in Season 2,” Sorkin teases. There was some approval from the audience, but maybe not much. “That was horrifying tepid. There was one person at the back of the room who was like, ‘Yeah,'” Sadoski cracked.
4) Dev Patel knows nothing about computers. You may think that just because Patel’s Neal Sampat is a computer expert and a blogger and an occasional comment troll that the actor playing him must be as well. You would be wrong. As Piers Morgan discovered from reading a past interview with Patel, he doesn’t really know from computers. Disappointingly, we didn’t learn what Patel actually knows about Bigfoot.
3) And Sorkin believes the show can survive even if Mackenzie and Will get back together. Piers Morgan is worried that “Newroom” couldn’t continue if Will and Mackenzie get back together. Sorkin is not worried. “I do not think it kills the show if they get together and I’m not telling you whether or not they do,” Sorkin teases. “It’s something that you’ve got to be careful with. If you have them dance up to the fire and go back and keep doing that enough times, the audience is going to give up on you. You’ve got to calibrate that a little bit. I do not believe that a couple that’s together is any less fun or romantic or sexy than a couple that’s trying to get together.”
2) Reading a big Aaron Sorkin monologue is high pressure. Jeff Daniels remembers facing the pressure of the key pilot monologue in which his character responds to a question about America being the greatest country in the world. “I was very aware that where it as placed was where America would be sitting with their remote going, ‘Do I stay with this or not,'” he recalls. And then he shared a car ride with Sorkin to the set on the day they shot the monologue and Sorkin’s inspirations words were “As important as this speech is to you, it’s twice as important to me.” Heh. Not that Daniels minds that pressure. “It’s what you want. We all want that speech and that’s the beauty of his writing, one of the things, is that he writes for actors. He writes scenes that you get to play that you get to get your teeth into and that was one of the great ones that I got to do,” he says.
1) Piers Morgan likes to hear himself talk. Hmmm… I guess we probably already knew that.

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