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Aaron Sorkin Addresses THE NEWSROOM Rape Controversy, Confirms Working to Put Plays on TV

Aaron Sorkin may have had “no idea” how The Newsroom would end its final season, as he stated during his Q&A with the Writers Guild Foundation on Monday night in Hollywood, but he probably never would’ve imagined it going this way. In the wake of a heated response to the series’ penultimate episode — featuring a discussion of an alleged rape on a school campus, coinciding with a similar controversy at the University of Virginia, as reported by Rolling Stone — Sorkin previewed the series finale to an audience filled with fans waiting for (and discussing eagerly) his response.

In a bit of meta unpacking, moderator Lynette Rice and Sorkin discussed the series’ place in the real world despite its historical fiction context of recent days — and how the showrunner and writer himself feels he is “getting in the way” of the work he writes.

It was the elephant in the room for the first 30 minutes of the chat, and when the People Magazine senior editor turned the discussion in that direction, the room noticeably tensed up. Sorkin took his time to answer the question, taking off on a tangent about people’s original misconceptions on the show before calling it “another misunderstanding.” Similarly, he explained, to when several critics regarded the show as Sorkin’s chance to “leverage hindsight for heroism.” Mostly because he couldn’t have felt more different heading into the evening.

“This episode was different,” Sorkin explained. “In every regard. First it was different great. … It was the first episode of The Newsroom I thought was really good. It was the first time I didn’t find myself banging my head against a wall feeling like ‘I just cannot get the hang of this.’ … until last night.”

“It lasted 6 hours,” he joked.

Though he knew “one of the stories in the episode was controversial,” Sorkin asserted he wasn’t courting it, making him “a little surprised by the vitriol and misunderstanding” from critics and fans that peppered social media for most of Monday. What plagued Sorkin most, though, was the way in which he felt people wrongly ascribed his personal beliefs to that of what was done and said on the show and the “terrible inferences drawn from it about me and my character.” Rice added that she herself has noticed this tendency in people’s criticisms and compliments of the show, to which Sorkin posited his belief that if he’d “written The Newsroom under a pseudonym, the reaction would’ve been much different.”

“They’re seeing it through a fractured lens of me,” he lamented.

Though he was reticent to say what he truly believed out of any of them, in the end he said that if he were to fall in line with anyone on the series, “I believe Neal [Sampat, played by Dev Patel].” A surprising twist, given Sampat was the social media-enjoying, Internet-evangelizing director of ACN’s website and digital content — often the odd-man-out on a series that frequently admonished certain aspects of the Internet.

(Personally, we believe the reason people so often conflate the two is not because Sork writes about politics — as he so posited — but rather the singular nature of his voice, so frequently philosophical in its grandstanding. But hey, what do we know?)

The writer did express hefty amounts of enthusiasm for his upcoming projects — including his Steve Jobs biopic (Danny Boyle is set to direct; Michael Fassbender and Seth Rogen are slated to play Jobs and Steve Wozniak, respectively). And though he’s reluctant to return to traditional television, he was all for the prospect of bringing live theatre back to television at NBC — confirming reports that A Few Good Men would likely be the first to go up if he had his druthers, as first reported by Variety. Sorkin also had his eye on “a play by Tina Fey; one by Tony Kushner” for this proposed series. Frankly, he had us at “Tina Fey.” Mean Girls: The Musical, but on TV? MAKE IT SO, SORKIN.

One thing he doesn’t have enthusiasm for? Hate-watching. (And yes that goes doubly for theater events, Peter Pan LIVE! viewers.)

“I cannot relate to that emotion,” he said. “It’s a disorder.”

How do you think Sorkin has handled the controversy? Gather ye rosebuds in the comments.

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  1. Trynee says:

    I am a middle-aged woman who was once a college girl who could have been having that conversation. I thought it was handled brilliantly from both sides of the encounter. I sympathize with the student, but aged with Keefer’s character completely. Sorkin is the Nickelback of writing: everyone is supposed to hate it or they’re going to get judged for having questionable taste. If people would just listen to what is said I think they’d find that Sorkin’s work has a recognizable signature (just like a Nickelback song) and that despite the people screaming about how you must hate this stuff! Most folks kinda like him.

  2. Max says:

    We just not gonna talk about Charlie Skinner, are we then?

  3. Brendan says:

    I thought it was one of the best episodes of the series. How people can misconstrue Don Keefer’s reasoning with some “white men always know best” mentality is astonishing to me. He wants justice for this girl, but if a particular course of action has spotty chances at best of achieving that, but is 100% guaranteed to be misused against an innocent individual down the road, is it right? That’s the question that was being asked. Sorkin has written amazingly strong female characters in the past like CJ Cregg, Ainsley Hayes and more. Using this episode to say he writes weak women who don’t know as much as their male counterparts is simply absurd.

    • Chris says:

      I was completely sympathizing with a middle aged man doing his best to give advice to a college girl who had just been exposed to more of life than he had personally ever seen.  I’m a middle aged white guy, though, so I guess that’s to be expected.

      • Jason says:

        I think what is lost on some is that Sorkin is not necessarily speaking through Don.  He wrote the college girl’s dialog also, which was a fully realized and strong female who wasn’t swayed by Don’s pleading.  Sorkin probably needed to have some empathy for her in order to write her voice so well.  I sympathized with the girl in the scenes, she had no good options.  I didn’t think the story necessarily stated that Don was right, him being a main character did not help, but Don has always been a bit of a tool. (plus his actions killed Charlie)