I’ve had it in mind to write this article for quite a while, and I never could quite find the right timing. Now, as the mid-season finale of USA Network’s hit series “Necessary Roughness” approaches, and the season finale for HBO’s “The Newsroom” is round the corner, I think the perfect moment has come. Yes, I am going to compare two shows that are, at first glance, entirely different, but that do have two fundamental things in common: a way-above-average group of writers and actors, and being true-to-life. This latter characteristic being one that is generally sorely lacking in TV shows that manage to be entertaining without exceeding in drama.
While I’m sure you aren’t even remotely interested in the details of my journalistic life, thus I will avoid boring you with too many of those, (though hey, I DO have some juicy stories… that are top secret! What, the best stories always are!) they are the first reason why I saw similarities between the brilliantly-written USA Network sophomore drama and the new Aaron Sorkin masterpiece. For many years, I worked in a newsroom that had quite a few things in common with the one portrayed in the HBO drama. Big media group, need to always be the first to deliver the news (even more so than in the Sorkin drama, as mine was not only a television, but also a “news agency” newsroom, so timing was essential), group of very motivated, energetic people who hung out together at work and after… your classic big international media group newsroom.
And I was (I am still, though not in the same place) the sports reporter. Which of course provided me with the opportunity to work in the world that “Necessary Roughness” is set in. The Terrence Kings (the “Necessary Roughness” football wide receiver character masterfully portrayed by the talented — and painfully handsome — Mehcad Brooks) of this world are not a novelty to me, or an item I only ever saw on tabloids. They have been a part of my working life for many years now, just like the newsroom has been.
All of the above is the reason why I think I can safely say, with good reason and with a well-informed opinion, that both “Necessary Roughness” and “The Newsroom” do a magnificent job at depicting the world they are set in. And they manage to make it entertaining, moving, and interesting. They don’t exceed in useless drama, they don’t trivialize the light moments, they don’t let characters become caricatures or just your standard cardboard-cut TV personas. Both shows successfully manage to create a scripted product that, while of course only picking the most interesting moments (who wants to watch people just deal with standard boring days on TV? Obviously no one), portrays life in a newsroom and in a locker room/sports franchise as it actually is. If you think that’s an easy feat to accomplish, think again.
I am always skeptical toward shows that depict journalists and journalism because, one way or another, they always end up being a concentrate of common places and/or unrealistic dramatic devices. I was amazed when I watched the (ridiculously good) pilot for “The Newsroom”, shocked even. It was literally like seeing a random day of my 6 and a half years in a newsroom play on my screen. The same happened when I watched the pilot for “Necessary Roughness” last season. On top of having good fictional drama and a great balance between said drama and humor, it was showing me people, problems, and moments that I had been seeing for years while doing my job.
Is every anchorman like Will McAvoy? (by the way, I can’t praise Jeff Daniels enough for how good he is at portraying the character. A perfect mix of histrionic, temperamental and competent, while human). And is every athlete like TK? Of course not. But they accurately represent a type that I (and of course many others who do my same job) have often come across during my career. And they’re not stereotypes: they’re a multi-faceted representation of real people.
Which brings me to my next point: why I think neither of the two shows gets nearly as much credit as it should. It takes two rare ingredients to succeed in putting on screen such entertaining, and yet realistic, accounts, of the media and sports life: impeccable writing and great acting. While “The Newsroom” has the big advantage of having Aaron Sorkin as its creator/showrunner, which by itself guarantees a certain amount of praise (though like I said, not nearly enough in this case) for the screenwriting, “Necessary Roughness” has well-known names at the helm, but won’t be guaranteed even that certain amount of praise. Its creators and executive producers, Liz Kruger and her husband Craig Shapiro, have written several television series, including ABC’s Pan Am, and have produced the now-defunct “Miami Medical” for CBS (still bitter over the cancellation of that one. Another show that had heart, brains and a great cast). But they’ve never been given as much critical attention as Mr. Sorkin.
On the other hand, much as Mr. Sorkin gets a guaranteed minimum amount of praise, the expectations on his work are always so high, that inevitably critics are far too harsh than they should be. While some critics can be understood, I found some of the negative points that were raised about “The Newsroom” absolutely unjustified, and coming more from a non-knowledge of the big media newsroom environment rather than from reality. One of the critics that amused me the most: women in the show make too many stupid mistakes. Right, and the male protagonist being in therapy and being portrayed alternatively as someone who needs suggestions from a woman to formulate the right answer (the woman who cheated on him, no less) during a public debate, or someone who sacrificed professional integrity in the name of Nielsen numbers and didn’t get his integrity back until said woman made him realize just how low he had sunk isn’t too screwed up, though? MacKenzie McHale (the female lead of the show, played by the wonderful Emily Mortimer) is a beautiful character because she’s flawed. She’s too competent and too smart not to have flaws. She needs to make stupid mistakes as well, or she’d be insufferably perfect and simply not “real”.
The mistakes that women have made in “The Newsroom” are mistakes I as a woman have made myself, and that I have witnessed women making more often than men. The email one, in particular. Why? Because in newsrooms you use email even to chat with your desk neighbor. And women, in average, tend to communicate more than men do. So the chance of a mistake like MacKenzie’s is way higher for a woman than it is for a man (and yeah, I have made the same mistake, sending an email to various people instead of just one person. And it wasn’t pleasant!). So please, leave the feminist claims aside. This has got nothing to do with them.
I don’t feel the need to make feminist claims because women make stupid mistakes on a TV show. We make them in real life, as well. I don’t want special treatment for women characters because well, they’re women. And I’m a woman who is a sports reporter, so I have experienced my whole life what it is to be the only woman in a testosterone-filled environment. It never bothered me, and it actually turned out to be an advantage in most cases. I was right sometimes, and wrong some other times. Just like everyone else. Another reason why “The Newsroom” is actually realistic for writing its female characters the way it does. They’re as flawed as the men.
The network “Necessary Roughness” and “The Newsroom” respectively air on may also have an impact on the different critical approach. For some reason, while HBO gets the praise and the awards it deserves for its shows, USA Network is way too often overlooked when it comes to recognizing the amount of talent (on and off screen) it displays. (Though last season both Callie Thorne from “Necessary Roughness” and Patrick J. Adams from “Suits” earned a Golden Globe nomination for best actress and a SAG nomination for best actor respectively. The year before, Piper Perabo got a Golden Globe nod for her leading role in “Covert Affairs”.).
Approaching series avoiding an over-dramatic tone, like USA Network does, isn’t something that makes the content of shows less poignant or less meaningful. It just makes shows more enjoyable and less dark. A tone that’s well balanced between drama and humor when telling stories isn’t the equivalent of “mindless entertainment”. It’s far more difficult to keep the balance between drama and humor than it is to go flat-out dramatic or flat-out comedic. “Necessary Roughness” is a prime example of that. It mixes drama and humor, while facing themes that are far from light (from psychological disorders to drug addiction). While Callie Thorne has, thankfully, been nominated for a Golden Globe (she does a magnificent job as Doctor Danielle Santino, the leading lady of the show), there are other actors – as well as writers – on the show that deserve just as much recognition. The whole cast is impeccable (from Marc Blucas to Scott Cohen to Patrick Johnson and Hannah Marks), but after season 2 in particular, some critical praise and recognition is owed to Mehcad Brooks, who literally carried most of the show’s drama and humor on his shoulders, and did a superb job at that. The emotional rollercoaster TK goes through, from over-the-top, flamboyant bad boy to emotional, caring, fragile man — while passing through tough, talented athlete on field – could easily turn his character into a caricature, but thanks to the humanity that Mr. Brooks has managed to inject in his portrayal of the star wide receiver of the New York Hawks, that never happened to Terrence King.
In the words of his co-star Marc Blucas: “Mehcad finds the perfect balance between being real and between being that childish, arrogant, over the top athlete when he plays TK. Mehcad is so talented and found a way to play that perfectly, so that we know there’s that person in there that we love and we want that person to come out, but at the same time we deal with that other character.” I hope Mr. Brooks’s unquestionable talent is recognized by those award-giving committees, as well. It’s time.
There are many good actors on TV whose talent is overlooked, and it seems like the USA Network ones are victims of a “prejudice” that has no reason to exist, because of the “drama meets humor” rather than overly dramatic tone, that the network sets for its shows. The same applies to writers and producers on USA. Is it easier to write something that’s flat-out dramatic and flat-out comedic or to juggle both drama and comedy in the same show, without overdoing it with either? And yet somehow, the flat-out dramatic or flat-out comedic writers get a lot more recognition. Some deserve it, and some don’t. But, it is a fact that many of those who really would deserve at least being nominated for the major awards, and who write for USA Network shows, are often overlooked in favor of others. It’s an unpleasant circumstance, and one I hope to quickly see rectified, especially considering that USA has consistently delivered quality shows over the past few years, and often came up with some of the most innovative and talked-about shows (White Collar, Suits, Covert Affairs, Necessary Roughness just to name the most recent few).
It’s time for “Necessary Roughness” and “The Newsroom” to be given the appreciation they deserve. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. And if I am, oh well, I’m known for trying to fix the world by myself, after all. Note: No, that doesn’t include getting you guys to marry Henry Cavill or my TV husband Michael Vartan. Or Jeff Daniels. Or Mehcad Brooks. I keep the handsome men for myself. I’m that greedy. Well, something humorous had to be added here. I know I was far too serious compared to my usual standards, but sometimes, that’s needed. I’ll get back to entertaining you more lightly next time, I promise!
Meantime…Don’t miss a new episode of “Necessary Roughness” Wednesday at 10 p.m. on USA Network, and the season finale of “The Newsroom” on Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO!