Paleyfest The Newsroom
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Host Piers Morgan spent most of PaleyFest’s Sunday night Newsroom panel offering his own opinions on the 24-hour news cycle and posing wandering, often self-absorbed ethical questions to the HBO series’ actors as if they were actual news producers. As a result, viewers gained little insight in to season 2 — except that the Sandy Hook tragedy may be addressed and that fans of Sloan and Don’s sexual chemistry will not be let down. The panel finally heated up toward the end via audience questions. Below, the highlights:

What to expect in season 2

“If you’re a fan of Don and Sloan, I would definitely be watching,” creator and executive producer Aaron Sorkin teased. In terms of the real-life connection to actual news, season 2 will follow the 2012 presidential election throughout. The Trayvon Martin shooting and budget crisis will also be addressed. Sorkin — who is currently writing episode 5 — admitted to being wary about writing Sandy Hook into the season even though he knows it’s unavoidable. “That’s a tough thing to write about without minimalizing it, exploiting it, spreading Cheez Whiz all over it,” he said. “Sorry for the bad metaphor, but there are so many land mines to step on. You want to make sure you don’t do it a disservice.” Having season 2 end chronologically just before Sandy Hook is a possibility.

Should Will and MacKenzie resume a romance?

Sorkin was vague. “We’ve gotta be careful — if you have them dance up to the fire enough times, the audience is gonna leave.” But he added, “I do not believe a couple that’s together is any less fun or sexy than a couple that’s trying to get together.”

Olivia Munn vs. Piers Morgan

The former journalist wasn’t afraid to call out the CNN showboat when he asked her about the “celebrification” that goes along with the news these days. “I prefer to see Piers Morgan and Diane Sawyer just on the news and not a red carpet,” she said. “To make yourself newsworthy is so egotistical and self-absorbed. That’s the problem with so many news organizations — so many people trying to make themselves a celebrity.”

Aaron Sorkin vs. Piers Morgan

In a discussion of “news tsunamis” (like the Casey Anthony trial or the Carnival Cruise ship stuck at sea), Sorkin wondered why cable companies couldn’t just apply all those resources and energy to the sequester. “Honestly, no — I think the sequester is one of the most supremely boring stories,” Piers shut him down. But Sorkin brought it up again! He now seems determined to “make the sequester sexy,” so don’t be surprised if it comes up on The Newsroom.

Jeff Daniels vs. Piers Morgan

Morgan rather rudely presented The Newsroom’s lead actor with this non-question: “You were desperate for this role.” Daniels: “Desperate is a big word…When I met with Aaron, I wasn’t leaving ’til I had [the role], that was my intention. If you have a shot to lead that kind of foray into whatever it is, his artistry…desperate, yeah, but determined is more like it.”

Why Sloan Sabbith wears tight clothes

Munn worked with The Newsroom‘s costume designer on a specific look — form-fitting suits and minimal jewelry — that’s opposite from the current anchorwoman norm. “When you see Sloan walking out, I want people to judge her immediately — she has a womanly shape — but then I want the audience to judge themselves for judging her. Media perpetuates stereotypes, so why not perpetuate a new one?”

John Gallagher, Jr. was on The West Wing!

Sorkin didn’t remember it at the time of the Spring Awakening star’s audition, but there it was on Gallagher’s resume: He played Tyler, one of the guys who helped Toby, Josh, and Donna catch up to the campaign motorcade in 2002’s “20 Hours in America: Part 1.”

Tom Sadoski “ate another character with his audition”

Sorkin recalled that “Tommy”‘s audition for the character of Don was so great that he realized “he could be all these things I needed two people to be.” Goodbye, phantom character “Steve” — we never knew ye. Meanwhile, Munn’s character Sloan turned into a much bigger role than Sorkin had originally anticipated.

Meta question of the night!

Sorkin singled out a woman in the front row and made sure Piers Morgan would give her the time of day, and it was a good call: “Jeff, why is America the greatest country in the world?” It was the same question posed to Will McAvoy by the student in the series premiere. “It’s not — but it can be,” Daniels gamely replied.

Jeff Daniels had that speech down cold — and backwards

Sorkin shared how he hadn’t been quite sure how Daniels would step up to the challenge of the three-page, fact-heavy monologue he’d written for the premiere (it had been only the third day of shooting for the series). “I like the sound of names, dates, places, statistics — it’s kind of like a drum solo in the middle of the speech,” Sorkin said. “I went up to Jeff and said, ‘If you want, we can write it out on cards, have it off camera.’ And the look he gave me! He then said the speech literally backwards — all those statistics in the middle.”

“Fish stinks from the head.” –Sam Waterston

At the end of the panel, the veteran Law and Order actor made an interjection, the slow, pondering nature of which had everyone riveted: “Two elements haven’t been emphasized enough,” he said. “One, when the material is like this, it makes everybody rise to the bait and become their best selves. You don’t want to spoil something,” he said. “Then the other thing: I know this is not the appropriate expression, but, fish stinks from the head. We are good because Jeff is wonderful. He has set a standard we can all only emulate.”

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The Newsroom
Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series follows the lives of a fictional cable news room ensemble.
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