The Paley Center for Media was founded by the man who did more to shape American broadcast news than any other, William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. So it is only fitting that the new HBO series “The Newsroom” was featured this Sunday evening during the first weekend of PaleyFest in 2013. This television dramatization of how live news is produced today presented an excellent opportunity for an unscripted and illuminating discussion hosted by one of the best known personalities in the real world of news, Piers Morgan. The current host of a globally broadcast evening talk show on CNN, Morgan was previously a print journalist and managing editor in London.
Morgan’s actions said as much as his words. He held an information packed briefing dossier in his hands during the panel discussion and referred to his notes frequently to fine tune his questions and comments with journalistic precision. Sure, that made him look like a first time city council candidate to viewers accustomed only to superficial teleprompter readers. But that level of preparation and attention to detail is critical to giving substance equal billing with style.
And the audience got all the style it wanted from “The Newsroom” cast. Style trendsetter Oliva Munn brought the classic image of a rising starlet into the 21st Century. She explained how combining news savvy with a model like on screen appearance can be a role model for a future generation of women to aspire to. Dev Patel told how his signature cardigans have upstaged former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s sweater vests in the everyday office attire department. Creator Aaron Sorkin, well known for both television series including “The West Wing” and the film “The Social Network” was heralded for his writing style -- distinctive, gripping, yet easy for actors from diverse dramatic backgrounds to ease into naturally.
The candid discussion showed how producing quality television programming requires balancing high standards with realistic compromises in a way very similar to the back office professionals featured on the show itself. Ratings matter. No one gets to watch a superb show whose ratings are so low it gets cancelled. Pier Morgan put the issue in perspective by pointing out how tabloid style sensations like the Casey Anthony trial can overwhelm traditional in-depth news with a ratings tsunami. Morgan also explained how and why the classic news organization persevere -- they build a core audience and maintain it.
The PaleyFest panel also put a new spin on the old adage, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” The discussion started out with a sampling of negative reviews from “old school” television critics writing for “old school” media. Typically these critics overlook the frequent bankruptcies that confirm their managers are out of touch with today’s economy and what audiences want. Morgan brought the live audience at PaleyFest up to date by confirming just how realistic dramatizations seen on “The Newsroom” can be. Just one week ago, Morgan had to use a backup plan for a live broadcast from the Oscar Award’s Red Carpet when a power outage struck the CNN broadcast center in Atlanta. This very same subject was part of the evening’s screening from Season Two of “The Newsroom.”