Right now, Aaron Sorkin is cursing Nate Silver.
In Sorkin’s world, the 2012 election would have gone down to the wire. It wouldn’t have dragged out in manner of the Bush-Gore debacle of 2000, nor would it have been called at 11:12 pm, which is what happened this past Tuesday in a thoroughly anti-climactic event (who cares if Florida still can’t get their act together? Good night, nurse.) No, in Sorkin’s world, the election would go down
to the wee hours of Election Wednesday, just as dawn was breaking and none of the world had slept. Sorkin’s election would have involved drama, last minute compromises, large states too close to call. Sorkin’s election would have been nail-biting to the end, broken down to in-fighting, tragedy, and party-hopping. Sorkin’s election would reek of integrity, to the point where you feel like you’re getting hit over the head with an American Flag. Sorkin’s election is the height of idealism.
It would not consist of a thirtysomething wunderkind—or highly logical statistician, depending on your point of view—calling the election perfectly weeks before, then getting praised and roasted via Twitter (#DrunkNateSilver anyone?) But before you can say five-thirty-GREAT, let’s mourn for Sorkin’s fictional election that could have been…
and we’re done.
Which is, perhaps, what makes Sorkin’s current endeavor, The Newsroom, so fascinating. In all of Sorkin’s previous series—the glorious The West Wing, the short-lived-but-beloved Sports Night, the thoroughly fine Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and The American President (not a series, but thrown in for good measure)—he culled inspiration from real life events, without referring to any real-life politicians prior to Nixon. This allowed him to create a realistic universe, but an alternative one as well.
Thus his elections in The West Wing were devices to an end. The first, President Josiah Bartlet re-election, was a victory tour the entire way through. He destroyed his opponent in the last (and only) debate and gave the audience the satisfaction of enjoying Bartlet’s virtually uncontested election day, inviting us all to celebrate in our own integrity and self-satisfaction that here is a man, deserving of the presidency now and forever, who everyone agrees should be president, now and forever.
The second election, that of Congressman Matthew Santos against Senator Arnold Vinick, was the election of Sorkin’s dreams: a two-parter involving all the scenarios I listed earlier: a tragic death, in-fighting, and a large-scale recount. He took every possible situation that could induce anxiety for the audience (or voter, depending on your relationship with reality) and he infused the episode with them ad nauseum. Great television, in that it neatly tied up a messy, intense situation, and was able to gloss over the inevitable fall-out that would actually have occurred (see 2000 election), and kept the audience involved and engaged. He didn’t write it, of course, having left after the end of season 4, but it was still the election of his dreams.
This time, it’s a little different.
The Newsroom follows a realistic-ish timeline.; the first episode takes place in April of 2010, the day of the Gulf Coast oil spill, and bounces between major events that occur over the next sixteen months. The drama comes from the events themselves—he focuses on events that inspired media panic—as well as the interpersonal relationships that follow. That means he has to follow the current election timeline and outcome. In and of itself, it will be interesting to see what he does with it; he has more than enough material to work with, and, judging by his ode to debate reform in his episode “The Blackout II: Mock Debate,” he has plenty to say and the tools to do it.
I, for one, am thankful that Sorkin gave himself these parameters. It forces him to give commentary on things that have real impact on his audience.
While he has, in the past, allowed his characters almost complete victory when covering these “real” events, endowing them with so much prescience that their anticipation and “correct” reactions to these events come across as holier than thou, I hope Sorkin allows McAvoy and crew to get quite a few things wrong in the election season. I hope he allows a Nate Silver-esque character to come in and show them up, rather than having one working to their advantage. I hope that Sorkin’s inevitable annoyance that he couldn’t have written that election manifests in real discourse and character development. Because in the end, no matter how much I hope that Jed Bartlet will spring to life and run for president, this is television. These are stories.
I can’t wait for this show to start up again. I have terrible, unrequited crushes on Will and Don (more on my feminist feelings towards both these characters and my attraction to them coming soon) and I love having Sorkin back on television. I also think he has a real chance to blend his own immense storytelling ability with the gift of reality and these real, tangible political players who influence Sorkin’s viewers every day. And yes, that gift includes Nate Silver. – Hannah