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Scott D. Pierce: Misguided critics lecture "The Newsroom's" Aaron Sorkin

Published August 5, 2012 5:34 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Beverly Hills, Calif. • Jeff Daniels thinks he insulted a room full of critics the other day. He didn't.

The star of HBO's "The Newsroom" was more or less an innocent bystander in what was, at times, a contentious interview session with Oscar and Emmy winner Aaron Sorkin and a select group of critics who don't like the show. Some critics have been shrieking about their dislike in print, lecturing Sorkin about what they perceive as his failings and demanding changes.

Daniels said he's ignored it all.

"It took me a long time as an actor to stop reading you," he told members of the Television Critics Association. "There's nothing you can tell me, I'm sorry to say, that will help me. I wish there were. But that's kind of the approach you have to have just to survive as an actor."

And then he turned to Sorkin and said, "Did I just offend all of them? I did."

No, he didn't. Because I write for readers, not for the people I'm writing about. And not once in the thousands of reviews I've written have I thought that my reviews should be a blueprint for writers, actors or anyone else.

Fortunately, I'm not alone. Daniel Fienberg of Hitfix tweeted, "I don't view my reviews or criticism as script notes for the writers/directors/stars of a show or movie."

Linda Holmes of NPRMonkeySee tweeted, "Jeff Daniels just promised us he knows why we write, but then implied we do it to give creators advice/help. That is not my reason."

We're trying to clue you in about TV shows and whether they're worth watching. I would no more tell Daniels how to act than I would offer quarterbacking tips to Eli Manning. I recognize when they're doing their job well, but I'm not here to tell them how to do it.

That, unfortunately, is not the case for everyone who claims to be a journalist. Some of the questions asked of Sorkin demonstrated a clear misunderstanding not only of his show, but of our jobs.

Some of the questions from critics seemed to almost willfully misunderstand as a way to beat Sorkin over the head for reasons that seemed more personal than professional, and to promote personal agendas.

That's not our job when we're conducting interviews. After Sorkin expresses his opinions, it's our jobs to write whatever we will. But we're not there to argue with him or try to get him to change his show based on our opinions.

We're TV critics, not network executives giving notes.

"We all know that there were critics who did not enjoy watching the first four episodes," Sorkin said to much laughter, "and there were critics that did. Obviously, you'd prefer that the praise for the show be unanimous, but I think that anytime people are talking this much about a television show, it's good for television. It's good for people who watch television. It's good for the people who work in television."

For the record, I quite like "The Newsroom." I think it has some big flaws, but what TV show is perfect?

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.






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