1. It begins with a very public crash-and-burn.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip began with veteran TV producer Wes Mendell (played by beloved TV legend Judd Hirsch) delivering an on-air diatribe against the state of television and the whole modern world. The media embarrassment puts the whole staff in crisis mode — which doubles as a nice introduction to the show’s ensemble. It’s almost identical to the inciting incident seen in The Newsroom‘s trailer when respected news anchor Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy is caught on camera saying America isn’t great. Sorkin plumbed similar territory way back in The West Wing when he began the series premiere with Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) getting into an on-air verbal scuffle with a Christian activist.
2. There is an office romance or two or seven.
Sorkinland runs on witty banter, so there’s no surprise that everyone who works together on an Aaron Sorkin TV show inevitably winds up in a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship. Josh and Donna Moss (Janel Maloney) from West Wing danced a slow tango of verbal seduction over several seasons, and don’t forget about both Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman) and Casey McCall (Peter Krause) as well as Jeremy Goodwin (Joshua Malina) and Natalie Hurley (Sabrina Lloyd) on Sports Night.
3. Boo, the Evil Corporate Person!
Aaron Sorkin populates his TV shows with idealistic work families all united in one common purpose: Putting on a TV show (Sports Night, Studio 60), saving the world (The West Wing), putting on a TV show that saves the world (The Newsroom). In this sense, the shows have an old-fashioned, pre-Sopranos sensibility in that there aren’t any villains — unless you count ”the possibility of not achieving greatness” as a villain. But the shows do tend to feature one major antagonistic presence: The Evil Company Man, who always has an eye on the bottom line and all too often has the gall to censor the protagonists’ brilliance. Steven Weber played the role on Studio 60 and various faceless yes-men waltzed through Sports Night. The Newsroom will feature Jane Fonda as Rupert Murdoch-esque corporate honcho.
4. Yay, the Irascible Father Figure!
Only one thing can rescue our main characters from vile corporate shenanigans: A wise, paternal figure who knows everything, and whose one minor flaw only serves to highlight how flawless they really are. Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlet was the President-as-’50s-sitcom-dad and Robert Guillaume’s producer on Sports Night was a voice of reason amidst the chaos. The casting of Sam Waterston as The Newsroom‘s executive producer was already perfect, since Waterston is basically a modern Perry Mason after years on Law & Order. Giving him a bow tie is just gilding the lily, which is the kind of phrase people say all the time on Aaron Sorkin shows.
5. Conservative characters who aren't actually very conservative.
Sarah Paulson’s character on Studio 60 had two key character traits: She was incredibly funny, and she was Christian. Regarding the former: No. Regarding the latter: The character was explicitly in favor of premarital sex, had a complicated perspective on the question of gay marriage, and generally didn’t talk about her Christianity except when she occasionally said ”I’m a Christian.” On The Newsroom, Will McAvoy is a registered Republican, but he’s a hyper-moderate Republican who explicitly disagrees with the vast majority of contemporary right-wing causes.
6. What do you mean an all-white cast? Look at that one guy!
At the start of the 1999 broadcast TV season, the NAACP threatened a lawsuit against the Big Four broadcast networks when none of the networks’ 26 new Fall shows featured a single non-white lead character. The West Wing got caught up in the controversy and quickly introduced Charlie Young, the personal aide to the President played by Dulé Hill. Sorkin clearly took the criticism to heart, attempting to grapple directly (albeit awkwardly) with racial issues on Studio 60 with Simon Stiles, the character played by D.L. Hughley. And The Newsroom features an Indian actor (Dev Patel) and a half-Asian actress (Olivia Munn) on its ensemble. So… progress?
7. Bad Internet, bad!
Aaron Sorkin does not like the internet. This fact is so well-established that it isn’t surprising that Neal’s (Patel) job as a ”blogger” (scoff scoff scoff) is instantly dismissed by his boss on The Newsroom.
8. An amazing array of alliterative names.
It’s hard to think of a more perfect name than ”Sam Seaborn.” It’s snappy. It’s sexy. It suggests a grand journey, a questing spirit, a wide ocean as blue as Rob Lowe’s eyes. Sorkin loves the superhero-secret-identity rhythm of the alliterative name. On The Newsroom, Emily Mortimer plays a character ”Mackenzie MacHale,” and Munn plays ”Sloan Sabbith.” The all-time winner is Paulson’s character on Studio 60. Full name: Hannah Harriet Hayes.
9. The walk-and-talk.
Because everything worth saying is worth saying in motion. Sorkin hilariously parodied his love of walk-and-talk dialogue on 30 Rock — so, yes, he knows you make fun of it, and he doesn’t care.
10. There will be speeches!
Few things in life cannot be solved by a beautifully composed, philosophical-and-yet-so-conversational speech. Sorkin has written some great soliloquies, but nothing matches the ”Philo Farnsworth” speech on Sports Night, delivered by Sam Donovan (William H. Macy). A complete history of the birth of TV, delivered while walking and talking through several hallways, which serves as a stirring rebuke to nattering nabobs of corporate negativism? It’s a Sorkin bingo!