Sorkin’s series follows fictional cable news anchor Will McCallister (Jeff Daniels) and his “News Night” staff at the fictional cable news channel UBS.
While in development at HBO the new project was tentatively called “More As This Story Develops.” The name “Newsroom” (or possibly “The Newsroom,” HBO hasn’t decided whether to add a “the”) is likely to remind Sorkin fans of one of his earliest TV series, the critically acclaimed but short lived ABC program “Sports Night.”
While the series is a work of fiction, it exists in a universe in which UBS competes with CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and in a world complete with ABC and NBC. According to a copy of Sorkin’s pilot script obtained by TVNewser, there are a few familiar (and very real) names mentioned in the pilot, and some of the plot points will look very familiar to avid cable news fans:
Former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather and current CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton get name-checked by Sorkin in the script, an effort to drive home the realism of the series. In one scene, a talented young producer that was brought over to UBS from CNN realizes that his new job may not be as secure as he thought it was. “Okay, I’m calling Jim Walton and begging for a job,” he quips.
In another scene McCallister responds to pressure from his boss, UBS News president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston)
Will: Charlie, I can’t go after Halliburton and miss.
Charlie: Oh report the goddam news, Will.
Will: You remember a guy named Dan Rather?
Charlie: Dan got it right.
Will: He’s no longer on television.
One of the key plot points of the pilot (spoiler alert!) is when McCallister is forced to get a new executive producer, after his old EP “Don” defects to the new 10 PM program hosted by his former protege, “Elliot.”
“I gave him his first job on the air, I gave him his first job on a panel, I gave him his first job as a substitute anchor and I make it known to everyone that I’d like to see him at 10 o’clock and he poaches Don,” McCallister says to Skinner.
That situation bears a striking similarity to one at MSNBC last year. “Countdown” host Keith Olbermann lost his EP Izzy Povich and a number of staffers to a new 10 PM program hosted by Lawrence O’Donnell. O’Donnell was “Countdown”‘s regular substitute host.
To bring the whole situation full circle, O’Donnell made his television debut as a writer and consultant for “The West Wing,” Sorkin’s acclaimed NBC drama about American politics.
That situation, which cuts a little close to home for MSNBC, may have played a part in why the channel nixed a cameo from Chris Matthews in the show. Matthews’ son Thomas Matthews is an actor with a small role in the upcoming series.