TV & Radio
'Rant'' is a word too often used in the pejorative. It's deployed to make a speaker sound one-eyed and reckless; a lone voice carried away by spontaneity and momentum.
Whereas a point of view is likely to be thoughtful, a rant is dismissed as the triumph of attitude over argument.
To stuffed shirts, ranting is specious; a style of communication that abuses rhetoric to defend prejudices that would wilt under scrutiny. Ranting gets a bad wrap. It's time to reclaim the rant.
Done well, a rant is an explosive articulation of ideas. Aaron Sorkin writes the best rants on TV. His creations The West Wing, Studio 60, Sports Night, A Few Good Men and his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Social Network are full of classic rants.
His new show, The Newsroom, is a rant: at the state of the media, the tenor of political debate, the decline of empire. For Sorkin, it's regrettably fertile ground.
The first episode begins with a monologue from TV journo Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), who stuns a college crowd with his extemporaneous take-down of American exceptionalism.
His delivery of the program's, and therefore Sorkin's, manifesto is an entertaining cocktail of anger and relief. It's a superb, lyrical scene that confirms HBO as the new playwrights' playground.
McAvoy's outburst heralds the reconstruction of a nightly news program that is news fantasy in the same way The West Wing was political fantasy.
McAvoy will henceforth realise his potential as the ideal news anchor, an ''attorney for both sides'' on a show that's ''biased towards fairness'' and lets ''content drive ratings'' instead of the reverse.
The opening credits feature silent slo-mo footage of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite talking down the barrel to a lilting orchestral score.
Sorkin has said he would like to have been a writer in the 1940s, and his shameless romanticism is a counterpoint to today's media knee-jerks and blowhards.
The Newsroom encourages us to suspend disbelief and imagine there's money in integrity.
''We're going to try to do the news and see what happens,'' says the fictional executive producer. In Australia, too, that objective seems radical. Channel Seven's news recently opened a story on the carbon tax by saying, ''Whether you believe in global warming or not ...'' Because you don't want to offend the all-important ''dullard demo''. Sorkin's fake cable program eschews the 24-hour news circus.
On the morning a man who used to be a powerbroker had a tiff with a man who used to be a politician, an ABC News 24 presenter reassured us: ''We'll be following this story all day.'' The tragedy is, they did.
The trendy response to The Newsroom has been to deride Sorkin's depiction of a news show as a quaint and futile attempt to recapture a past that never was.
Critics argue the characters are unbelievable, the stakes too low, and the message-driven dialogue too smug and self-righteous. Having watched as many episodes as those who wrote it off, I find this popular frustration deeply frustrating.
To charges of idealism, so what? Who on earth has ever become passionate about anything without first being seduced by the fantasy? Sorkin has given me more goosebumps than just about any other artist.
He grounds sentimentality in the tangible and conjures up an addictive optimism that exploits the medium in ways others can't. I look forward to his output the way kids look forward to Christmas, even with the knowledge that I might not be getting exactly what I wanted.
Sorkin writes dialogue, not silence. Many great writers have a style they spend the rest of their career fleshing out. Expecting Sorkin to quit hyperactive, clippy banter is like asking Hemingway to go easy on the full stops.
This is Sorkin's third series set behind the scenes of a live TV show. The stakes might not be as high as presidential politics but the issues are important, and mass media remains where we chiefly turn to for news and culture. Even if you don't share a fascination with what goes to air on TV, it's difficult to deny the high drama of the red light.
The Newsroom has occasional cringe moments and dialogue that would clang in the hands of lesser players, but the reception has been unfair.
Sorkin created The West Wing in 1999, heralding the type of drama we've come to expect. A sense of entitlement has met a culture of dissatisfaction. We demand quality in all mediums but are less inclined to pay for and value it.
The idea of American exceptionalism might be dubious, but it certainly applies to television. Sorkin reaches for the stars, and even when he falls short, it's fun being in the atmosphere.
The Newsroom premiers on Monday, August 13 on SoHo, 8.30pm