At its heart, HBO’s The Newsroom has been a sitcom. Sure, it might be an hour-long and take itself really, really seriously, but consider the following: most of The Newsroom takes place in a single location, and most episodes tends to focus more on witty banter and romantic entanglements instead of, you know, reporting the news. Running time and “Fix You” montages aside, the show is an old-fashioned workplace sitcom. Reshoot it with three cameras in front of a studio audience, and The Newsroom could fit right at home on Must See TV, alongside Cheers and Night Court. (Although The Newsroom’s treatment of female characters might seem antiquated even for the 1980s.)
Aaron Sorkin is no stranger to the workplace sitcom; the writer broke into television with Sports Night, a half-hour set behind the scenes of a SportsCenter-esque program. Given that Sorkin himself is arguably one of Sorkin’s greatest influences, it’s no surprise that much ofThe Newsroom’s inter-character relationships and office politics prove similar. But The Newsroom has more in common with another beloved-1990s-sitcom-set-behind-the-scenes-of-a-news-program: NewsRadio.
NewsRadio follows the exploits of the staff at WNYX, a New York City news radio station. Like The Newsroom, NewsRadio largely takes place in a New York City newsroom and its adjoining offices. And like The Newsroom, NewsRadio is less concerned with depicting journalism, instead focusing on the antics of its staff. If a big scoop happens, it simply falls into the lap of the characters, whether it’s character X’s conveniently placed relative (“My sister works at Haliburton!”) on The Newsroom or a man preparing to jump from a ledge right outside the offices of WNYX on NewsRadio.
But the most striking similarity comes from the shows’ nearly identical casts. Though jobs and relationships differ, NewsRadio’s beloved eight-person cast appears to have been replicated on The Newsroom.
Leading the respective news programs are blustery entitled anchors (Phil Hartman’s Bill McNeal and Jeff Daniel’s Will McAvoy) who believe they are God’s gift to the airwaves. These men believe it is their duty as anchors to keep civilization from falling apart, though only on NewsRadio is this treated as a joke.
The similarities continue with the producers in charge of dealing with the on-air talent. Both shows leave this duty to waifish, extremely neurotic brunette overachievers. NewsRadio’s Lisa Miller (Maura Tierney) is the kind of woman who retakes her SATs well into her adult life when she fears she’s losing her intelligence. On The Newsroom, MacKenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) has reportedly won two Peabodies and suffered a stab wound, both a result of spending over two years reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan. These women care a lot.
Overseeing the entire operations are wily eccentric bosses. WNXY must deal with playful billionaire station owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root), a man who once ran for President so he could pick up women. Meanwhile, ACN News Division President Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson) presides over the News Night staff often while drunk and impersonating Burgess Meredith.
Though associate producer Jim Harper (John J. Gallagher) makes for a solid Jim Halpert doppelganger, the straight-laced producer feels like a demoted version of WNYX news director Dave Nelson (Dave Foley). Both serve as the center of calm in otherwise hectic newsrooms.
Of course, no workplace comedy would be complete without a lanky office weird guy. It feels like every episode of NewsRadio opened with Matthew Brock (Andy Dick) tripping and falling flat on his face. Episodes are often devoted to his various fixations, whether its his new mustache or the immense insight provided by the cartoon Dilbert. His Newsroom counterpart, Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), guesses that Obama’s address regarding Bin Laden’s death might have something to do with extraterrestrials. He also spends countless hours trying to convince the staff that Bigfoot is real.
Even the underwritten characters of The Newsroom and NewsRadio match up. Both shows feature an “attractive female co-anchor” (Khandi Alexander as Catherine Duke; Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith), an “office asshole” (Joe Rogan as Joe Garelli; Thomas Sardoski as Don Keefer), and an “angsty young woman treated like a kid by almost all” (Vicki Lewis as Beth; Alison Pill as Maggie Jordan). The jobs of the last two might differ from their counterparts, but the characters fulfill the same archetypes.
NewsRadio and The Newsroom might as well be the same show. The only difference is that NewsRadio knows it’s a comedy.
Justin Geldzahler believes that America’s number one problem is that it doesn’t follow Aaron Sorkin’s advice on any and all topics.