July 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
One of my favorite non-prose writers, Aaron Sorkin, has been in the press and all over the internet lately because of his new show, The Newsroom. He’d been getting a decent amount of criticism for plagiarizing his own writing from previous shows and then last week, he fired the show’s entire writing staff—except for his ex-girlfriend—before they started on a second season. I haven’t seen The Newsroom yet (I like to wait for DVDs and take down a whole season in a week), but as an Aaron Sorkin fan with an admiring familiarity with many of his other shows and movies, I feel like I have a pretty decent guess at how these two items are related.
“THE WRITING ROOM”
by Evan Kingston
The writing staff couldn’t help being a little frightened when they showed up for their first day on The Newsroom. They were all Aaron Sorkin fans: Steve studied the cadence of Sports Night dialogue before every script he wrote, Kevin cited The West Wing as the reason he got into television, and Corinne even dated Aaron for a while—and persisted in her belief that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was underrated, even after its auteur had broken up with her. Nervous at the prospect of meeting one of TV’s greatest writers, they engaged in rapid chatter while taking nervous laps of the office’s busy hallways.
But when Aaron called them all into the writing room and introduced himself, he assuaged each and every one of their fears with a stirring speech, replete with Biblical and musical theater references, about how they were going to change television—and America itself—with the work of the coming weeks.
“But I don’t want you to feel too much pressure,” he concluded. “Just know that the only thing you ever need to do to make me happy is come in to work every day.”
“I’m really disappointed in all of you.” Aaron said to begin their meeting the next day. “Every script you guys gave me—the entire season—is complete crap. Start over.”
It took a long silence for any of them to work up the nerve to respond, and Kevin was first. “Can you at least tell us what we did wrong, what sort of direction to go in?”
“I brought each of you in on this show because you have good taste. So go back and look at the work I did on Sports Night—a show that was too good for TV—or West Wing, where I made America better than America ever could. That was great TV; use it as your model, your guide, your template.”
“We can do that,” Steve beamed.
“You can’t do anything right.” Aaron said at their next meeting as he slid their stacked scripts into the recycling bin he’d brought with him to the table. “These were more like your old scripts than anything I’ve ever written.”
“So it’s got the right structure and pacing.” Aaron made a fart noise with his mouth. “Big deal. You’re still missing most of what makes any writing great. Where’s the awkwardly pompous male lead, his intimidating father figure, a driven yet manic woman? Everything that makes a story interesting? Where’s the enticingly unavailable redhead?”
As the staff worked together all night, Kevin took charge, his confidence eventually leading him to declare, “If you haven’t seen Kevin write Sorkin, you haven’t seen Shakespeare how it’s meant to be done.”
When Corinne laughed at his reference, he seized the opportunity to declare, “You have beautiful red hair. We should go out to dinner sometime.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m sort of maybe going to be unavailable soon, so I probably shouldn’t,” she evaded.
Once she’d turned down each his thirty subsequent advances, they focused on repopulating the show with proper Sorkinian archetypes.
When they presented Aaron with their new scripts in the morning, he hung his head. “This isn’t happening.”
“What could possibly be wrong with them now,” Steve pleaded. “We reworked every character exactly to your demands.”
“A character is defined through dialogue,” Aaron corrected. “So how can they be like Jed Bartlett if they don’t say what Jed Bartlett says?”
The next day, Kevin turned in a skillful pastiche of the greatest Sorkinisms ever, lines from a dozen different projects artfully arranged to form a surprisingly coherent plot. Steve turned in the pilot for Sports Night, with most of the character names changed. Corinne blew off the assignment by saying she hadn’t had time the previous night.
“I think it’s too little, too late, guys,” Aaron sighed after looking them over. “These are close, and I’m proud of everything you’ve learned from me while working on the show, but these scripts are still missing that final touch, the right few words.”
Kevin guffawed. “What? ‘By Aaron Sorkin?”’
“I know it’s harsh,” Aaron continued, “But this isn’t TV camp. It isn’t important that everyone gets to play. I’m sorry, but you’re fired.”
Steve, hoping it was just Kevin, asked, “Who?”
“‘Whom,'” Aaron countered pedantically.
“Actually, in this instance—”
“All of you,” Aaron interrupted. “You’re all fired.”
The entire staff shuffled out, except for Corinne. “Even me, Aaron? I emulated you one better than everyone else. I am wearing your shirt.”
Aaron paused for a moment before smiling. “I thought it looked tight.”
If you’re a Sorkin fan, I hope you got a few laughs out of that and caught a few of the Easter Eggs. I really do love Mr. Sorkin’s work and am looking forward to ignoring the critics and deciding for myself once Season 1 of The Newsroom comes out. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, satire is probably a ways further down the list, but flattery nonetheless. Or, to parody the quote that stands as this blog’s subtitle, what works can one trivialize except those of great importance?