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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Newsroom and The Hour

I just saw the first season - or, first series, as the say in the U.K. - of The Hour, the 2011 BBC2 show about a news show struggling to be news worthy, during the Suez Crisis and the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary (to crush its attempt to leave the Soviet block) in the Fall of 1956.  The show, which has been renewed for a second season, is superb on many levels, including a primer on the self-destructiveness of any democratic government trying to regulate its media.  The United Kingdom has no First Amendment, as was made clear regarding coverage of the Suez War in 1956 and the Falklands War in 1992, when the British government, well, dictated what UK media could report and criticize about those war efforts.

That makes England a very different news environment than what we have here in the United States, where the Supreme Court has by and large struck down any attempt on the part of the government to muzzle reporting (not so much when it comes to perceived "indecent" language).  But the dynamics of news shows striving to be cutting edge, aiming at the ideal of presenting the truth to the people, regardless of what the government (or, in the U.S., corporate masters) may want, is much the same, and makes The Hour a great older sibling to The Newsroom.

And there are other family resemblances, including love affairs between the dynamic female producer and the male anchor (played by Dominic West of The Wire in The Hour), and their ability to put on a great show despite or maybe in part because of this.  Are such relationships a staple of news rooms in real life, or were Abi Morgan (writer of The Hour) and Aaron Sorkin (The Newsroom) just similarly inspired?

Since The Hour was on last year - or a year before the debut of The Newsroom this year - there is a fair likelihood that Sorkin was inspired by The Hour, and that's ok.  The Hour, taking place in the 1950s, could be seen as inspired by Mad Men, and that's just the way television works.  There is sufficient difference between the two series.   The Newsroom, currently situated in 2011 in its story, addresses a wider array ethical issues, including the quintessentially 21st century problem of the anchor as bully (not as in bully pulpit, but in bullying guests on the shows).

And the topic of news show fighting to be free is so important, so crucial to our democracy, that it more than deserves two superbly written, superbly acted shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

See also The Newsroom and McLuhan
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