Last night I was watching “The Newsroom” on HBO and thinking about the way the drama is written by Aaron Sorkin and edited for the modern episodic television series. Scenes taking place simultaneously flow through seamlessly, as the participants move across the screen in blended conversations which range from poverly long monologues, through witty reparatee and down to one word mouth gapes.
The form is altogether new and though it is a version of how people might talk with each other, it's not really how people talk in newsrooms or anywhere else on the planet. That's because the conversation has to move the action as well as give insight into the characters. Oh, and in some cases it has to be spoken in the code of the genre. Put another way, the words have a lot of work to do, especially when compared side-by-side with the broadcast setting where the words are only half the story, maybe less.
Another element that comes into play on “The Newsroom” is shared messages on social networks—photos, posts, tweets, downloads and texts—dozens of them in just minutes. The unfiltered free-for-all that everyone experiences every single day is a chronic and incurable disruption. The audience only learns about the stuff the characters initiate or respond to in the Newsroom world, of course. But the social networking that goes on around the characters also explores and creates a window into the world of the fictional newsroom's fictional audience—numbering 1.5 million.
Everything about the audience has changed regardless of where they are located, the format or media the artist is working in or the nature and function of the work. In most cases, it enhances the experience. You get to sit around and guess how Will McAvoy is going to take the startling fact that (spoiler alert) his father died before he was able to reconcile with him. Audiences love being set-up for smart twists in the story, as long as they're smart and seem real.
Our regular world has become so commonly surreal that the only time a story seems to lack authenticity is when it is derived from another television show or action movie.
Watching TV used to be a passive activity. Junk in and junk out. For long stretches of time—like months— I just didn't watch anything. The beginning of the end started when audience participation made it's way into prime time with “American Idol.” TiVo arrived and the separation of commercials and content on cable channels for a while became indistinct. (Some channels have brought the old format back to life successfully when the content is live or first-run like news, sports, punditry, late night comedy, etc.)
You don't have to know a whole lot about the work of William Shakespeare to figure out that Aaron Sorkin does kind exactly the same thing Shakespeare did. His cast is a diverse lot from up and down the food chain: Anchorman to fan-he-bumped-into-in-a-coffee-line-who-tweets-about-his-rudeness; chimney sweep mistaken for a King in Shakespeare. (No situation screamed Shakespeare as loudly as Tiger Woods' wife pretending she was Tiger while texting his girlfriend. Identity-switching is one of Shakespeare's favorite chaos-creating devices.)
This Sorkin-Shakespeare structure of writing and splicing may be the new normal for all I know, but it is definitely a departure from tradition when TV shows were built and designed to fill the gap between the far more important commercials. I love being in the audience for an interesting television show almost as much as I love watching Shakespeare live. But not quite.
That's why it's so wonderful you can always depend on groups of random Shakespeare-loving people to get together every so often and start a theater company, which is exactly what happened in Gary last Spring.
But you probably know all about being a good audience if you are reading Prime, and hopefully you are already participating by sending comments, suggestions, thoughts and any other feedback to us through our web site or on a social network. If not, start with this—does anyone out there actually believe that Shakespeare didn't write his own plays?
Associate Publisher and Editor
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