Summer television has gotten much better

And this year shows some really good work.

I recommend to you “The Newsroom” on HBO. Episodes are available online, and I encourage you to watch even Episode 1. That episode has a vaguely ‘Network’ feel to it, but it sets the premise for the show: the anchor has an epiphany whilst speaking at an engagement. “We have to stop doing news as entertainment for the lowest common denominator and start doing news as informing people.”

What a premise.

With that, the show takes on hot issues, even some that are too hot to touch elsewhere: politicians who are flimflam artists and political groups that are so far out on the edge that they negatively affect normal, rational discourse. At the same time, they show how news of the times should have been covered had any of the networks taken a ‘hard news’ perspective – like they did in the 60’s. This is news the way I wish I could watch it right now. The show about the shooting of Gabby Gifford is electrifying.

To a guy who spent 22+ years in television, the production values matter. And here they are fantastic, top-notch. I right now don’t know where they shoot the show, but it is shot in a working master control facility and in a working studio. The giveaway is that there is a certain amount of junk around the sets that is naturally there in a working television environment. No matter how much you pretty it up, this stuff has to be close at hand and available. And it’s there.

The editing is absolutely spot-on. As an editor, I always find stuff that I’d do differently in some shows. Not here. The music lay-ins are perfection in poetry, and the scoring itself is smooth and the mixdown is right… on… the… spot. The music itself is a gorgeous, lush counterpoint to the story, itself a work of art. Whoever is scoring the series has learned from Snuffy Walden, because it seems to have his magical touch.

The show is produced by Aaron Sorkin, the guy who produced “The West Wing”. The storylines are mobile, with natural unexpected twists and turns, and the dialog flows extremely well, escalating to a verbal punching match when necessary to heighten the dynamic of the story.

Let me take you to a scene in Episode 8, where the news team is gearing up for a debate that (hopefully) the network will be hosting. And if it does host it, they hope to change the nature of political debates forever. They would get beyond the pat answers and go for the real personality and values of the person we’re electing, not just the “package” built by the Party. This alone creates a certain amount of dynamic tension in the script, as does the unwilling compromise of some ethics about the newscast. I’ll leave that part for you to find out, but right now let’s step into the writer’s pit, where the discussion is happening.

Here, Maggie Jordan (played by Allison Pill) is working on a line of debate questions.  Jim Harper (played by John Gallegher, jr) is playing the part of Michelle Bachmann, and Maggie is asking him these questions as if they are in the debate roundtable:

Maggie: “Tell you what question I’d start off with. Congresswoman Bachmann, you say you were told to run for President by God.”

Jim: “Please, I don’t…”

Maggie: “You’ve said on a number of occasions that God told you to run for president.”

(a brief argument ensues, wherein Maggie offers to play several clips of Bachmann saying that God told her to run; Jim finally concedes the point)

Maggie: “Here’s my question. What does God really sound like?”

(Muted chuckles from others around the pit)

Maggie, looking around at the others: “I’m completely serious! She’s saying that God told her to run for president.” (Turning back to Jim) “What does his voice sound like? What did he say, exactly? Does he speak Acadian, Hebrew, Swahili, Bantu? And to put it in a medical context, is this the first time you have been hearing voices?”

(uproar from the pit)

Jim: “Now wait…”

Maggie (looking around at the other reporters in the pit, but pointing and gesturing at Jim): “She’s claiming to be a prophet. The whole world is sitting on the edge of their seat. How is this not the first question we’ll ask?”

Jim: “Can you stop pointing at me and saying she and her?”

Maggie: “You’re the one who volunteered to play Michelle Bachmann.”

Jim (slowly and deliberately): “Can I just say here that this is not the best way to demonstrate seriousness of intent? And it’s not the best way to not insult people…”

Maggie: “Which people are you talking about?”

An onlooker from the pit: “Christians: 83% of the country.”

Maggie (looking around at others and finally back to Jim. Her lines are spoken in staccato, each a verbal exclamation): “She’s insulting me.
She’s insulting my family.
She’s insulting my congregation.
And she’s insulting my faith.
She’s implying that Christians are imbeciles who’ll believe anything while reducing God to a political hack who endorses political candidates.
Now maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is the first time since Moses that God has given direct instructions to someone other than his son. But if so, I think it deserves a follow-up question.”

(another uproar from the pit)

Jim: “We’re not going to get this question into the debate…”

Maggie: “The whole point of this different debate format is to compel candidates to own up to their rhetoric while asking tougher questions than a match.com profile. If she knows what God wants, then I’m voting for her. If she doesn’t, then she needs to stop. I’m not attacking Christians, I’m defending them.”

<cut to next scene, after a stunned pause>

Okay, so there’s a short look into the writing. And yes, I deliberately chose this segment to quote because it’s a ‘hot subject’. And while I do believe that God communicates with each and every one of us through his Spirit, I also know that he is consistent with himself, in fulfillment of his plan. And I also know that while he might ask us to do something, to do so will be in line with his consistency. It will always, always be in line with who he is. Most importantly, he will never ask us to do something outside of the abilities he has given us. The key is in continuing to listen and trust him, not taking one single incident of a Word (especially about something this huge) and then running off on a grand quest with only that one arrow in the quiver.

God will always equip you, not hang you out.

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