Aaron Sorkin quashed rumors of behind-the-scenes turmoil on The Newsroom during a heated panel at the Television Critics Association's fall preview sessions Wednesday.
"I want to be as clear as I possibly can about this. The writing staff was not fired," Sorkin said. "Just seeing that in print is scaring the hell out of the writing staff. They're acting very strange. They're coming to work early. They're acting polite to me. I want the old gang back.
"I thought that we did great this year and it's a fantastic group to work with," he added.
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Reports first surfaced about the writers' room shake-up on July 19. In the same story, it was said that one writer kept her job at least partly because she was Sorkin's ex-girlfriend, a report that Sorkin also denied. "[Corinne Kingsbury] was incorrectly identified as my ex-girlfriend. She is not. I don't have an ex-girlfriend in the writers' room or anywhere else on the show," he said. "I think she's at the beginning of a very exciting career and I would hate for this rumor ... to follow her around."
However, Sorkin did confirm several changes to the writers' room for Season 2, including the promotion of two writing assistants and the addition of several paid consultants (the consultants used during Season 1 were unpaid). "I'm hiring a range of paid consultants from TV, print and online media representing every part of the ideological, political spectrum that you can imagine."
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Reports about the changes behind the scenes at The Newsroom came several weeks after the show debuted to divisive — some would say largely negative — reviews from critics. "We all know that there were critics who did not enjoy watching the first four episodes," Sorkin said, inciting a laugh from star Jeff Daniels. "And there were critics that did." Although Sorkin admitted it would be nice to be universally praised, he said he appreciates the chatter about the show regardless. "Any time that people are talking this much about television is good for television."
Daniels later said he also enjoyed the discussion The Newsroom has provoked. "When can you do something like this that is going to be loved and loathed?" he said. "This isn't CSI: Detroit."
A good chunk of the criticism has been targeted at Sorkin's portrayal of women on the show, which some have called uneven, sexist and "incredibly hostile" towards women. Sorkin, again, vehemently supported his actions. "I completely respect that opinion but I 100 percent disagree with it. I think the female characters on the show are every bit equals to the men," Sorkin said. He went on to note that the premise of the series would not exist without Emily Mortimer's character MacKenzie, a female executive producer on "News Night," and defended the show's fictional leading ladies as caring, thoughtful, curious and great team players. "Once you've nailed those [characteristics] down, you can have them slip on as many banana peels as you want," he added.
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Daniels complimented Sorkin's writing for showing the flaws in both the female and male characters. MacKenzie is smart but also screws up, Daniels said. "That's one of the things that Will loves about her."
Unlike Sorkin, Daniels had a much easier time brushing off the criticism aimed at The Newsroom. "There's nothing you can tell me — I'm sorry to say — that will help me," Daniels told the reporters and called the renewal from HBO "validation."
"Did I just offend all of them?" Daniels then asked Sorkin. "I did, didn't I?"
Looking ahead to future episodes, Sorkin said the next new hour would focus on the night Osama bin Laden was killed. For Season 2, which Sorkin said will premiere next June, The Newsroom will remain 9-18 months behind real time.
The Newsroom airs Sundays at 10/9c on HBO.