The Newsroom

Hollywood has a liberal bias. Sorkin is its poster child. His talents as a writer and ability to frame arguments in a way which make liberals smile must upset conservatives.

Sorkin brings his liberal slant to The Newsroom. Though the series is fiction it is bolstered by fact. The first episode takes place on the day of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf.

I’m being too positive. That’s not how I was while watching.

I’m an Aaron Sorkin fan. I’ve liked most everything he’s done. That’s why Helaine and I watched HBO’s The Newsroom tonight.

I’m a liberal and even I admit Hollywood has a liberal bias. Sorkin is its poster child. His talents as a writer and ability to frame arguments in a way which make liberals smile must upset conservatives.

Sorkin brings his liberal slant to The Newsroom. The series is fiction, but bolstered by fact. The first episode takes place the day of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf.

I’m being too positive. It sounds like I unconditionally enjoyed the show. That’s not how I was while watching. The Newsroom developed slowly, relied on tired hooks and predictable interactions. There are too many characters you’ve seen before.

What I did like is the excitement of a newsroom at airtime. It’s not always that way. I’ve seen too many producers pass on breaking stories and in fact that mindset is a large part of Sorkin’s morality play.

If I had to grade the show it would get a C. I will be back because there’s lot’s of potential… and Sorkin.

Did We Enjoy Moneyball?

All baseball teams may be created equal, but they’re not funded that way!

Helaine and I saw Moneyball today. We went into New Haven and the Criterion Bow Tie Theater for the 4:00 PM showing. That way we could also see the Phillies lose a pair to the Mets!

First things first. It’s a financial hit. I can’t remember ever seeing an afternoon showing this full.

The movie is the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). He’s the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. All baseball teams may be created equal, but they’re not funded that way!

Beane’s A’s had a payroll around a third that of the Yankees! When the A’s had a good player he was quickly spirited away for more money in a bigger market.

Helaine says she doesn’t find Pitt attractive. How? He is the most beautiful man alive. Even I see that.

Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) is his assistant. Brand is a disciple of Bill James. James realized there was mathematical importance to certain stats and a very good team could be built by finding the right undervalued players. The Bill James school-of-thought is called SABERMETRICS.

As a math guy I find the whole concept of SABERMETRICS fascinating. It breaks down a player’s value to a team with more precision than batting average or runs batted in.

After early adversity Beane and Brand become successful.

If that’s a spoiler, excuse me. I’ve seen it in nearly everything I’ve read about the movie. Maybe Columbia is pushing it in its promotion.

Aaron Sorkin is listed as one of the writers, but the script wasn’t his. He was brought in for revisions. The sharp and witty dialog of Social Network, West Wing and The Farnsworth Invention that is a Sorkin trademark is missing.

The acting is very good.

I’m a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s listed third. Minor role. Disappointed.

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were effortless. Hill specifically reminded me of my most nerdy friends–you know who you are. He was plausible as a guy who understood stats.

The movie was too long by a third. The pacing was slow. They did manage to “de-glam” the East Bay area.

Good movie. Glad we went.

If you enjoy baseball you’ll enjoy this. There is respect for how the game is actually played.

We Saw The Facebook Movie: The Social Network

To say Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is portrayed as having little regard for others is an understatement. Yet as much as I wanted to hate him I couldn’t. There’s someone else in the movie to hate.

We went to see “The Social Network” this afternoon. That’s the new movie about Facebook written by Aaron Sorkin. If you check Facebook more that a dozen times a day you’ll be going too!

Wondering why Saturday afternoon? Just look at the box office numbers from Friday night alone when 2,771 theaters sold $8,000,000 in tickets! We didn’t want to get shut out or be forced to sit in the first row.

The movie traces Mark Zuckerberg: geek, nerd, socially awkward smart smart guy Harvard student who had the idea (sort of) and wrote the code that made “,” and then Facebook a social phenomena.

To say Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is portrayed as having little regard for others is an understatement. Yet as much as I wanted to hate him I couldn’t. There’s someone else in the movie to hate. More on Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) in a moment.

As Zuckerberg’s creation begins to take off he becomes more in demand. His application crashes the Harvard computer network at 4:00 AM. He is hit on by beautiful Asian groupies&#185 as “The Facebook” usage continues to surge. Finally, Sean Parker the business oriented co-founder of Napster enters his life as an evil angel.

Standby. I’ll get to Parker soon.

The story is told in anecdotal flashback spawned from a series of actual depositions. Whether the anecdotes are true is anyone’s guess. Sorkin says:

This is a nonfiction story about two lawsuits that were brought against Facebook at roughly the same time where the defendant, the plaintiffs and the witnesses all came into the deposition room and swore an oath.

Of course everyone’s deposed testimony differed. There’s a lot of truth to pick from. Recently people who should know have said there’s a lot more fiction than fact. Who’s to say? Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately) for Zuckerberg the movie will probably trump history!

What’s not in dispute is Zuckerberg did pay an eight figure settlement to a group led by identical twin Harvard students who said Facebook was really a project they proposed and he agreed to code for them. Also not in dispute is a payment to Zuckerberg’s original partner who was squeezed out under pressure from Sean Parker but walked away with cash and a perpetual website credit line.

OK–Parker time.

Sean Parker is a real life character. Though Sorkin’s script makes him “the Napster guy” I immediately went to Google. I remembered Napster’s genius as Shawn Fanning. We’re both right. Fanning was the coding guy. Parker was the business guy. Fanning was the only one I’d heard of until today.

Sorkin makes Sean Parker the biggest schmuck here. All Zuckerberg wanted was for his website to grow so he would be validated. Traffic was his goal. He says (often) money is not his motivating factor. It was Parker, as Zuckerberg’s Svengali, who convinced him the ultimate target should be cash and convinced him to screw his best friend and co-founding partner!

You see why it’s easy to hate him?

It’s funny considering the subject matter but this was an action picture with a rapid pace. As with anything Aaron Sorkin touches the writing was tight with no dialog wasted. I was envious of the partying college life I saw (a life that sadly didn’t exist… or more likely just didn’t invite me while I was in college) early on, but not at all envious of the dark path Zuckerberg followed to success.

I never saw him happy. Money really can’t buy it, can it?

&#185 – The movie makes a point of the fascination Jewish men have with Asian woman. I can’t explain why except to say it’s true. The movie tries to make the case it’s a two-way street. I’ve seen little… OK, no… evidence for that.

My Girlie Man Movie Weakness

I’m not watching Dirty Jobs or UFC guys slugging it out or anything that’s testosterone related.

I’m a girlie man, right? I must be. I’m not watching Dirty Jobs or UFC guys slugging it out or anything that’s testosterone related. Michael Douglas and Annette Benning are on HBO. It’s “The American President” for about the thirtieth time and I am glued to the tube.

This is a character flaw, right? Because if this isn’t a chick flick there are none. And yet all the chicks are asleep, even Roxie.

Why is this movie so appealing to me? I can’t put my finger on it. It is sappy and melodramatic. I admit this willingly. It’s romantic. I know that too.

It is Aaron Sorkin. It is Aaron Sorkin’s cast of characters–his usual suspects. It is elegantly crafted like a well tailored suit. Aaron Sorkin is an artist with a typewriter&#185

Good God it’s liberal in its message. Liberal speaks to me. I fessed up to that in my last post. I might as well embrace it.

Whatever it is about this movie I watch it again-and-again. I cry when it’s poignant. Sad but true.

&#185 – In 1995 he probably did use a typewriter.

The Farnsworth Invention

I went to NYC tonight to see “The Farnsworth Invention.” It is the story of David Sarnoff (Hank Azaria) and Philo Farnsworth (Jimmi Simpson). Farnsworth invented television but was robbed of his patent.

I drove to the city by myself. Helaine and Stef were driving east, seeing Joy Behar at Foxwoods.

I was going to meet up with the secretive son of my secretive West Coast friend. He, along with a friend of his from school, had flown east for a few days. My secret friend’s family has a secret small apartment on the Upper East Side, which is where the son and his friend are staying.

By the time I reached Manhattan, they were out. I headed down to Greenwich Village to pick them up.

I’d like to think I know New York City very well, but the lower end of Manhattan where streets no longer run parallel and have names instead of numbers, is another story. It’s very confusing and I left the GPS home.

We drove down St. Marks Place and headed north to 8th Avenue and 45th Street. The Music Box Theater is on 45th between Broadway and 8th.

Lots of people avoid driving in Manhattan. I embrace it. It’s actually a lot of fun, if you go in with the right mindset. Just remember, the goal is to fill any open car-sized space with a car. To the victor goes the spoils!

Parking is simple. You enter Manhattan knowing you cannot park on the street and that off-street parking is ridiculously expensive. With tax, parking was $44.

At least we got to watch the cars ride the car elevator, which not only goes up and down, but also goes sideways!

The Music Box Theater is small as Broadway houses go. We sat upstairs, about halfway through the balcony The site lines were excellent, as was the sound. There’s no doubt we were looking down on the actors, which isn’t a plus.

The Farnsworth Invention portrays both Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff as themselves and on-stage narrators. Sometimes, as narrator, the actors break the fourth wall, acknowledging and speaking to the audience or even clarifying a point by talking directly to the other character, who remains in character!

To pull this off, you need superb timing. That’s how it’s written and how it was performed!

As the first act progressed, I grew to like the visionary character that was David Sarnoff… but was I? Was it really Sarnoff or the way he was being portrayed by Azaria? Sarnoff was quite the businessman, but was he charming too?

Hank Azaria’s voice reminded me of George Burns. I know that’s strange. Of course, Azaria has a million voices, many of which are heard on The Simpsons&#185.

The likability of Philo Farnsworth is less in question. He, a Mormon, electronics savant from the middle of nowhere, stays simple and true to his science even as everything around him gets more complex. I think Jimmi Simpson was a great choice.

The show actually has a large cast. I’m saying actually, because none of them was memorable. That’s a necessity, as they were each playing three or four little roles.

The play was written by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Sports Night). It tells two stories… often conflicting stories… simultaneously. From two perspectives, they piece together the life of Philo Farnsworth who, with no formal training and a limited budget, created most of the technology that is TV.

As he worked, Farnsworth raced against RCA and a team led by Vladimir Zworykin. Zworykin would ultimately get the patent, using what the play refers to as “industrial espionage,” to finish his project with bits of Farnsworth’s technology.

In the end, was this amazing discovery better off with scientist Farnsworth or broadcasting entrepreneur Sarnoff, who know how to market TV to the masses?

Maybe I’m too easy on Broadway, but I loved the show.

The entire Fox Family is back on Broadway later this week. It’s a musical.

&#185 – Moe the bartender, Apu the Kwik-E-Mart owner, Police Chief Wiggum, Professor Frink, Dr. Nick Riviera and Comic Book Guy.

Good TV News

Helaine just sent me a story&#185 about my favorite show.

The show will go on for “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” despite its failure to lure viewers. NBC said Thursday it has ordered an additional nine episodes of the backstage drama from “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin for a full season’s worth of shows, or 22 weeks.

Hallelujah! I’m almost willing to forgive them for running a ‘two parter,’ which they began this week.

It is witty, clever, well written and well acted. How often do you get to say that nowadays?

&#185 – When did husbands and wives begin emailing each other? I’ve actually received email from Helaine while we were both sitting on the couch in the family room!

Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

Wow – I like this show a lot.

Here’s the funny part. I never would have seen it had it not been for Helaine, who set the DVR for herself. Last week it was just there. This week too.

I’ve told a few friends this is West Wing II. Maybe that’s unfair, because it’s obviously not a show about the White House, but a TV show.

The sensibilities are the same as West Wing. The edgy look, underlit and high contrast, matches West Wing too. Maybe that’s because, though the show is performed by an ensemble cast, all their words come from Aaron Sorkin, also responsible for West Wing.

You won’t immediately know the name of every significant cast member, but the faces are familiar. The biggest names are Bradley Whitford (West Wing), Matthew Perry (Friends) and Amanda Peet (gorgeous).

The premise is simple: a behind the scenes look at a weekly sketch comedy show, not unlike Saturday Night Live&#185. There’s conflict with the network, the public, the cast. Conflict is good for television.

It’s possible I like this show for different reasons than you. I think Studio 60 is showing us a part of television that’s in the midst of disappearing – high budget, mass market, common experience TV.

I like that kind of television. I will mourn its loss.

Can Studio 60, the show within the show, exist when broadcasting has given way to niche-casting? Can a show that hires a symphonic orchestra and chorus get renewed as budgets tighten and audiences shrink?

Even Saturday Night Live, the last of its kind, has been forced to cut back this season. At least four of last year’s cast members were dropped to save cash.

I love television. I love these complex pieces of programming that come together, touched by dozens of hands. There’s an excitement when the control room sits a dozen or more tightly wound souls, concentrating deeply enough to discern each of the 29.97 individual frames that flash by every second.

It’s what I grew up watching. It was attractive enough to sucker me as an employee.

TV is becoming more of an individual effort. TV programs are more narrowly aimed. In some cases TV programs have eliminated he TV station entirely. They are laser like as they look for their specific, targeted audience.

I grew up in an era when each network was a fire hose and everyone got wet!

There are no more Ed Sullivans, no more Walter Cronkites, no more Studio 60s. It’s quite possible there will be no more Geoff Fox’s – air talent who amass as many individual impressions as I have over twenty two years in one market.

This crunch over viewers and costs has been enabled by new technologies. which replace people. I suppose it’s inevitable, even if it’s a shame.

A single TV show as a universal experience will never happen again. That’s why we need to celebrate the glory that is Studio 60, today.

&#185 – Though there are parallels, this can’t be Saturday Night Live. In fact, Studio 60 acknowledges SNL as another network show.