INTERVIEW AUGUST 5, 2013
As news of CNN and NBC's dueling Hillary Clinton projects broke and season two of "The Newsroom" hurtled through treatises on Occupy Wall Street and Joseph Kony, we got in touch with the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, to chat about the way TV drama handles politics in the post-"West Wing" era. In lieu of an interview, Sorkin, on vacation with his daughter, agreed to answer a few questions via email from the beach. Some brief excerpts from our e-exchange:
Laura Bennett: Having created The Newsroom, which deals with real, recent political events, does your brain process scandals like Weinergate differently now, knowing you might have to dramatize them? Watching that press conference with Weiner and Huma, for instance, what goes through your head?
Aaron Sorkin: I really don't look at current events as if they're future story pitches. If the show's on the air two years from now, I'll need to be reminded that that press conference happened.
LB: It feels like a testament to the cultural power of The Newsroom that, every time a major world event happens, people now wonder what its “Newsroom treatment” will look like. The Onion had a recent headline: “Here’s hoping The Newsroom ends before Trayvon Martin.” What is your response to this?
AS: We don't report the news on The Newsroom. The news serves as a backdrop against which we're telling our own stories. It's historical fiction. If there's dramatic value to the way a story's reported or if it can serve as the basis for a conflict of ideas or if we can put one or more of our characters into the story without disturbing the reality of what really happened then it has a chance of showing up on the show.
LB: Looking back at your portrayal of the West Wing during the Clinton years, do you think current political gridlock would make it impossible to make a contemporary version of the West Wing?
AS: I think the wish-fulfillment of leaders—in either party—that wanted to get things done would probably be just as welcome today. The real difference is that we know more about the White House than we did just 10 or 15 years ago. The opening sequence of the pilot depended entirely on the audience not being familiar with the acronym "POTUS". We couldn't do that opening today.
LB: If you were to write "The West Wing" now, what kind of character would the president be?
AS: Bartlet always had one foot planted in another century. I think he'd be roughly the same guy. This time around he wouldn't have let Ainsley Hayes go to "CSI: Miami."
LB: CNN and NBC now have dueling Hillary biopics in development, already hotly contested by the RNC. What do you think of Bill and Hillary as dramatic characters?
AS: I generally put all my chips on execution. I don't know any more about the Clintons than anyone else but on the face of it they seem like great characters and 10 different writers could write 10 different movies.
LB: Which contemporary political figure do you think has the most dramatic potential?
AS: I think it depends what situation you put the political figure in. Other people are going to say Hillary Clinton so I'm going to say Chris Christie. He's got a tough needle to thread in the next few years.