When Sony began courting Aaron Sorkin to write its Steve Jobs movie a few months ago, it couldn’t have seemed like a more perfect fit. Sorkin was the best around at chronicling the complexity and fragility of genius, and his stock was sky-high; in fact, with “The Social Network” and “Moneyball,” the writer had just picked up Oscar nominations two years in a row for screenplays about those very types.
But like a cable news network erroneously reporting on a Supreme Court decision, Sorkin has crashed to Earth. Since Sony officially hired him in mid-May to pen the story of the Apple founder, Sorkin has premiered”The Newsroom.” And whether you believe, as I happen to, that the writer’s series about cable journalism is an interesting effort worthy of more generosity than it’s been given (heck, the devil himself may be worthy of more generosity than he’s been given), Sorkin has bit the dust hard.
The reviewers were first, with critics including the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum’s lamenting a “sanctimonious” show that “treats the audience as though we were extremely stupid.” Plenty of others followed suit.
But then, “The Newsroom” was due for a rocky time with the notepad set, since Sorkin was judging the people who would in turn judge him. More troubling for the show was the public backlash. A homemade video featuring recycled “Sorkinisms” garnered half a million views as it revealed the well to which the writer repeatedly returns (“y’think?”). Other forms of snark — some entertaining, some gratuitious (alliterative names?) — soon followed. And after a strong start to the HBO series last week, ratings for “The Newsroom” last Sunday dropped by about 20%.
Of course, creators with divisive shows pen hit movies all the time. But Sorkin is somehow different. His fame is greater and, maybe as a result, the resentment for him is more specific, more personal. He doesn’t just cause people to tune out; he causes them to mock.
Judging by Sorkin’s recent film work, “Steve Jobs” could well turn out to be a masterpiece. But the knives are out, and as anchorman Will McAvoy can attest, once drawn, they’re not often sheathed.
Maybe most troubling for Sony is that Sorkin will stay in the media consciousness for a while. HBO on Tuesday picked up “The Newsroom” for a second season, which means it could be running just as the “Jobs” publicity begins rolling out. If the current level of criticism keeps up, that could pose an issue for the biopic, even if the script is, well, Shakesepeare as it’s meant to be done.
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