Moderated by a giddy Piers Morgan, Sunday night’s star-studded PaleyFest panel for HBO’s The Newsroom gave viewers plenty to look forward to in this summer’s premiere of season two.
Show creator Aaron Sorkin introduced a 10-minute clip from the upcoming opener, which managed to cram in everything you love (or love to hate) about the show: swift, seamless solutions for behind-the-scenes technical difficulties, sexual tension and forlorn longing in the workplace, snappy dialogue, and corporate manipulations. The sophomore season promises to carry on Sorkin’s legacy of polarizing but captivating television.
Joining Sorkin and Morgan were executive producer Alan Poul and a host of big names from the drama’s ensemble: Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Sam Waterston, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Olivia Munn, and Dev Patel. For a full rerun of the on-stage lovefest between the actors as well as their thoughtful discussion on the state of cable news, check out Hulu. For those of you with your own breaking news to attend to, we’ve boiled down the highlights.
1. Piers Morgan clearly thinks the show is about him. It was the second question from the host of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, who built up a string of self-congratulatory adjectives to ask, “Who did you base [the character] on?” Jeff Daniels gamely deflected: “Like a lot of actors, you just end up playing yourself.” He went on to explain he and the show’s writers “created our own guy and tried to drop him in the middle of all of you.” That must’ve stung, huh, Piers?
2. Don & Sloan: Oh, it’s on. In the first season’s finale, Olivia Munn’s Sloan made it known she had more than a crush on Thomas Sadoski’s character Don, who later in the episode committed to cohabitation with Alison Pill’s Maggie. If the puppy dog eyes on Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) during the 10-minute teaser clip are any indication, that love polygon will continue well into season two. Fans pushing for a Don and Sloan hookup (there are entire Tumblr threads devoted to “shipping” these two) should “definitely be watching season two,” Sorkin said. He stayed mum on the fate of the show’s core “will they or won’t they” duo, Will and MacKenzie.
3. Olivia Munn is no Katherine Heigl — and Sloan might be TV’s next great feminist hero. Sure, Heigl wasn’t sharing a stage with Judd Apatow when she threw him under the bus for his portrayals of women on film. But Munn stood up for Sorkin’s female characters against heavy criticism from the femme blogosphere. “When he writes Sloan,” Munn said, “he writes it the same way he writes Don or Jim or Charlie. Literally, it’s just a character.” She also responded to Morgan’s (a little too enthusiastic) question about her comments on Sloan’s fitted wardrobe. “I didn’t want Sloan to flaunt her femininity, but I didn’t want her to apologize for it either,” Munn said. “When you see Sloan walking out, I want maybe for people to judge her, but then I want the audience to judge themselves for judging her.” Touché.
4. Emily Mortimer does not handle sexual tension well. At all. The lady got flustered describing her character’s chaotic job — “I’m producing him,” she said of her dynamic with Will’s character before covering her face and, inexplicably, leaning over to lay herself on Daniels’ lap. Because that calmed the audience right down.
5. The bromance is raging. There is a tremendous four-way bromance between Sam Waterston, Jeff Daniels, Aaron Sorkin, and Thomas Sadoski. Can you blame Sadoski when he says working with Waterston is like getting your acting Ph.D? Or Waterston for calling Daniels “wonderful”? The praise tossed around by all four men could have easily sounded insincere, but it was actually pretty endearing.
6. At any point with his usual Jim hair, John Gallagher Jr. is about an inch away from full-on sheepdog. It hadn’t quite reached the degree of urgency seen in his minor role on an episode of The West Wing, but Sunday’s mop reminded us how fine a line it is between would-be Romeo perpetually trapped in the friend zone and lovesick teenager. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, Harper.
7. Aaron Sorkin puts a lot — like, a lot — of thought into what news events he’ll write into the show. For upcoming episodes of “historical fiction,” Sorkin described his agony in carefully writing around things like Sandy Hook: “I’m sorry for the bad metaphor, but there are so many land mines out there, that you really want to make sure that you don’t do a disservice to a story that’s very important to all of us.” Later, an audience member pointedly thanked him for a key speech about a flawed crime bill in his film The American President, which she said she revisited after last year’s shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.: “I think that you need to write about it, because we turn to you for your thoughts on this.” Sorkin said the storyline might run right up to the December tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, but wouldn’t “go to February and pretend [it] didn’t happen.”
8. The show’s stars are along for the ride as much as we are. Though they played down any hint of a dictatorship on Sorkin’s set, the cast members who piped up said they didn’t push for improvisation while shooting to avoid messing with the creator’s vision.
9. Jeff Daniels stands by the college debate speech, not that anyone outside of Sorkin’s imagined reality was challenging him on it. Somehow the audience made it all the way to the second to last question of the night before asking Daniels point-blank, “Why is America the greatest country in the world?” After a standing ovation from his costars, Daniels leaned forward and said, “It isn’t, but it can be.”
10. Aaron Sorkin isn’t nearly as obnoxious as you might imagine. On top of Munn’s praise for the writer’s female characters, Sorkin was more than gracious toward his actors and seemed to genuinely respect the latest crew to bring his words to life. Even better, after some brownnosing he held Piers Morgan accountable for CNN’s deplorable coverage of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship disaster in direct comparison to its glaze over of the sequester. Looks like Sorkin really does believe the righteous news ideals his characters extol week after week on The Newsroom.