The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin's heralded return to television drama. While Sorkin created and guided The West Wing, which some observers praised as the best show on television, he also was involved in one capacity or another with A Few Good Men, The American President, Sports Night, Charlie Wilson's War, The Social Network, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Moneyball and more.
The Newsroom portrays a jaded, bitter news anchor (Jeff Daniels) and an idealistic producer (Emily Mortimer) who happen to share a romantic past. In the pilot, the producer convinces the anchor that they should collaborate on a news show that hearkens back to an idealized time when television news—and journalistic ethics—mattered. Sam Waterston plays the network news division president who hopes they succeed. Sorkin's trademark dense and snappy dialogue crackles throughout.
The approach to The Newsroom features a very nontraditional shooting style built around the main newsroom set at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood. For the episodes, the production uses two or more ALEXAs configured for a very simple on-set procedure that eschews a digital imaging technician.
Episodes usually take nine or 10 days to produce, including two or three days on location if the script calls for it. A few exterior shots establish the home base of the drama as New York, but for the most part the show shoots on sets and at Los Angeles locations that can pass for the Big Apple.
The creative minds behind The Newsroom envisioned dynamic images with energy and urgency. "We started off working to capture the same flavor that the pilot had," says McMullen. "The writing is so great, and our goal is to capture that in a live play, so to speak. It's more freeform, without a lot of premeditated traditional coverage. We might do six pages in one shot. It's designed to give the actors room to lay it all out there."
The newsroom set gives the operators plenty of room to set up interesting angles. The lensing tends toward the long end, which keeps the characters sharp while the background goes softer. Cameras are often on dollies, and usually the lenses are Angénieux Optimo 24-290mm zooms. A sudden frame size adjustment with the zoom—when it makes sense—is part of the visual signature. "We keep the camera moving a little bit, and follow the characters and the dialogue," says McMullen. "We keep it alive that way and we love shooting like that. It's just a real organic way of doing things, and you get great stuff."