Given the anticipatory hype that preceded the 2012 debut of HBO's The Newsroom, it would have been hard to predict that the Aaron Sorkindrama would end the way it is — with a truncated third and final season that begins Sunday.
After two up-and-down years — the first season was met with decidedly harsh reviews, while the second was received more warmly despite some persisting flaws —and a very tidy Season 2 finale, it seemed Sorkin might be ready to just move on to something else. But after negotiating with HBO and bringing The Office's Paul Lieberstein on board, Sorkin & Co. decided they weren't quite finished.
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"Aaron was not willing to go back unless he felt he could top what we had done in Season 2," executive producer Alan Poul tells TVGuide.com. "[It] was simply about taking a break, and then looking at: What did we accomplish and what had we not accomplished? What story was left to mine that could bring the show to a satisfying conclusion?"
As usual, those stories include the real-world news of the recent past, and the premiere (Sunday at 9/8c) deals with the Boston marathon bombing. "The ascendency of social media and the concept of so-called citizen journalism... broke in a big way surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing," Poul says. "There was great confusion, suspects were misidentified, innocent people were harassed as a result of being misidentified by both the press and on social media. And law enforcement's hand was forced, in that they had to divulge information they weren't ready to divulge sooner than they wanted to in order to protect innocent lives. So that entire incident became a flash point of the idea that crowd-sourcing was not necessarily a good idea for investigative journalism."
However, because the News Night team is still reeling a bit from reporting a completely false story last season, angry anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), his executive producer and fiancée MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and ACN News Director Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) are notably cautious about reporting the news. "Our characters come into this season very gun-shy, and that causes them to drag their heels a little bit, which has some negative repercussions," Poul says.
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Indeed, News Night
quickly falls to fourth place in the ratings, which once again puts them at odds with Leona and Reese Lansing (Jane Fonda
and Chris Messina
), the mother-son duo running the parent company. However, there are even bigger fish to fry when Reese's twin half-siblings (Kat Dennings
and Chris Smith
) make a play to buy the company. "Putting the entire future of the company in play was an essential part of the design of the season," Poul says. "When Leona first took stage in Season 1, she was kind of an adversary. Now they're all very much on the same team."It's that story — and another involving Neal (Dev Patel
) receiving classified documents from a Edward Snowden-like whistleblower — that make this six-episode final season most worthwhile. In fact, the more the show leans into its fictional characters and events, the more compelling it becomes. "Because this is the final season, it's much more about pruning the tree, coming down to the essentials, and making sure that each of our principle characters get his or her due," Poul says.Getting some extra time in the spotlight are Maggie (Alison Pill
), who finally gets a chance to prove her value as a producer, and the burgeoning relationship between Don (Thomas Sadoski
) and Sloan (Olivia Munn
), perhaps the show's most successful romantic pairing. And with Will and Mac's wedding planning (fortunately) taking place mostly as a running gag in the background, Will doesn't exactly have a whole lot to do in the early going. Even though the show even has some meta fun with Will being unable to make his trademark Big Speech, Poul insists Will hasn't lost his mojo.
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"Will recovers his balance fairly quickly," Poul says. "In Will's reaction to the whistle-blower story and Neal's involvement in it, he finds his footing again. It gives him a sense of purpose and resolve, and grounds him in the principles of journalistic integrity that have always been his. It makes him actually end up this season more certain than he's ever been."Overall, the final season's first three episodes suggest that this swan song was worth the effort. The truncated season has a propulsive energy that, when paired with the always-crackling dialogue, is not only the show's best effort but also feels like what the show should have always been. "It became a bit of a challenge to cram everything into the six episodes," Poul says. "But we had committed to it, and I do think each of the episodes is a real meal. In the end, I think that the season is much richer for our having to condense it."And since viewers already saw a potential series finale at the end of Season 2, how did the creative team approach The Newsroom
's ultimate conclusion? "It's clear the world goes on — ACN goes on, the news continues to break, and new stories continue to come around and the broadcast has to be made every night," Poul says. "I hope the ending will be really satisfying to people, in terms of closing out the major story lines in a surprising but fulfilling way. We're leaving the show in a way that hopefully will feel like a natural conclusion, but leaves our people still doing the things that they come to work to do every day."The Newsroom
airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO. Will you watch the final season?