TV Recap

‘The Newsroom’ Recap: Episode 8, ‘The Blackout Part I: Tragedy Porn’

Reviewed by Win Rosenfeld

August 13, 2012

Photo by David-Krumholtz
This week, under the pressure of a tabloid murder case, character assassination from within their own company, and the tweeting of a congressman’s junk, the crew at News Night finally sold out. We didn’t learn a whole lot of new information in “The Blackout Part I,” but the stage is certainly being set for an ugly confrontation between our scrappy band of television journalists and the fat cats that are signing their pay checks.

The Nancy Grace Effect

The episode starts a week into last year’s infamous Casey Anthony trial, and News Night is getting hammered in the ratings due to their refusal to cover it. ACN President Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) calls in the senior staff to explain that it might be time for Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) to roll over and start following the red hot trial, because News Night is going to need some serious viewership if they want a shot at hosting a GOP primary debate. Getting killed in the ratings by Nancy Grace is not an easy pill to swallow for our fearless anchor and News Division President Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson.) In a particularly amusing scene, we see the news team break down the manipulations of Grace’s coverage like game tape aided by “master of the dark arts” Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski).

But while Will and Charlie are (alarmingly) quick to accept the compromise as a relatively simple pragmatic decision, Executive Producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) predictably elects to indulge in some sanctimonious sulking. “Newsroom” creator Aaron Sorkin has taken a thorough thrashing from the critics over the way he portrays his female characters, and he likely won’t win any of them over with this episode. Wouldn’t it have been much more interesting to see Mac on the other side of this kind of debate for once? After all, she’s not perfect…

Keep Your Friends Close, Your Enemies Closer, and Your Romantic Rivals Auditioning

Due to a catastrophic bit of bad timing, Will has chosen this week to explore the possibility of allowing New York Magazine to profile the show. The reporter, Brian Brenner (Paul Schneider), turns out to be the guy with whom Mac cheated on Will.

It’s not entirely clear why this choice would achieve much more than rubbing salt into the wound and angering an already ticked-off Mac, but it has something to do with machismo and controlling what goes into the final story. There’s a catch, too: Will wants to audition Brenner. Despite granting him almost unfettered access to the newsroom, everything is off the record for two weeks. So why on earth would a journalist agree to such a lousy deal both professionally and personally? Because he’s that particularly filthy brand of sub-human known as a blogger. Gross!

Late for Dinner

Charlie makes his way to the New York Public Library to meet his anonymous source, a whistleblower from the NSA. The source, Solomon, isn’t happy about some of the surveillance liberties in which his agency is currently indulging. (Unfortunately, he has no scruples when it comes to talking in the library.) But Solomon has another tasty bit of information. The ACN tabloid TMI is using illegal wiretapping and cell phone hacking to dig up dirt on celebrities, politicians and our own Will McAvoy.

The scandal goes all the way up to Reese, and Charlie realizes it’s time to have another chat with the boss of bosses, Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda). Finally having the confirmation he’s been seeking for months, he asks her to lay-off Will and rein in the tabloid. But she wants Will out, and knows the more dirt TMI digs up, the easier he’ll be to fire. She thinks Charlie’s pleading with her, but he’s really threatening. When she closes the door on her limo, she seals her fate with Charlie. Muck shall be raked.

The episode ends when the other scandal de jour ends up in front of the News Night cameras in the form of the Anthony Weiner scandal. Mac reluctantly allows one of Weiner’s accusers on the air, but before Will can squeeze a question out through gritted teeth, a blackout hits. But the lights will come back on, and when they do, they’re going to be pointed directly at the dirty deeds of ACN.

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