This just in: Sunday’s premiere episode of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom attracted 2.1 million viewers at 10 p.m., losing a little more than half the audience (4.7 million) from lead-in True Blood. Sorkin never got big ratings when he produced shows for broadcast TV, so perhaps it’s not surprising that his first cable effort didn’t break any HBO records. But it wouldn’t be fair to call it a flop, either. Not by a mile.
The glass-half-empty analysis of the Newsroom ratings is that, despite the Sorkin brand name, his show still dramatically underperformed the launch of 2010’s Boardwalk Empire. That hour remains HBO’s biggest debut of the past five years, attracting 4.8 million viewers in September 2010 (and without the benefit of a big lead-in, as Newsroom had). The sunny scenario? Sorkin managed numbers on par with Game of Thrones, which scored 2.2 million viewers in its first 2010 telecast, then spread like wild fire (it closed out its most recent season averaging over 4 million viewers). The Newsroom also did way better out of the gate than True Blood, which didn’t have anywhere near the name-brand recognition of either GoT or Sorkin. The bloodsuckers started out in 2008 with 1.4 million viewers but quickly became HBO’s top-rated attraction, averaging more than 5 million weekly viewers. The Newsroom also doubled the tune-in for two other recent HBO dramas with great auspices, Luck and Treme, which brought in 1.1 million viewers with their respective first telecasts.
Of more concern for HBO, of course, is the fact that critical buzz on The Newsroom was decidedly mixed to negative. The network lives not on ratings but on the idea that its shows are Required Viewing. Critical opinion could evolve over coming weeks, of course. And while the show won’t be eligible for the Emmys until next summer, Golden Globes voters who’d like to have a one-on-one lunch with Sorkin could probably make that happen.