By Brad Friedman on 7/11/2012, 6:05am PT  

If you don't have HBO, now's a very good time to subscribe. No, this ain't a paid endorsement. It's just a fact.

Even if it's the only thing you'll watch on the channel, their new show, The Newsroom, from creator Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men, etc.) is worth the price of admission. As a matter of fact, by the time we got to Episode 3 last night, I've gotta say, I couldn't believe what I was seeing on my television. (Yeah, I know, "It's not TV, it's HBO.")

They've posted the complete Episode 1 on YouTube here if you'd like to give it a look. There doesn't seem to be any clips from this week's Episode 3 unfortunately, but that episode in particular, along with 1 and 2, are well worth your time.

Here's the first scene from the first episode, which might just be enough to make the case...

If you need more convincing, see below...

Again, Episodes 1 and 2 are not to be missed. But Episode 3 was extraordinary, for too many reasons to describe here, not the least of which are any spoilers I might accidentally offer. Suffice to say the Tea Party (the fake, corporate, astroturf one, not necessarily the real Ron Paul one which predates it by at least two years), very specifically, and by name, will despise this show. So will the Koch Brothers. By name. (Just two of the reasons I wish I could pull some video from this Episode!) Oh, and Jane Fonda's character appears for the first time in Episode 3. Along with Jeff Daniels, who plays "News Night" anchor Will McAvoy, are both absolute shoe-in for Emmys this year. Place your bets now.

While there's a bit of occasionally cloying, trademark Sorkin Soap-Opery throughout, and a character or two I'm not yet convinced by, given everything else we're being offered, it's pretty easy to overlook those imperfections.

Short of being able to show you video of this, the text is the next best thing. This is the opening of Episode 3, after McAvoy's "News Night" program has determined to become "News Night 2.0" --- to present actual news, with actual context, without phony balance, rather than whatever might pull in ratings. It opens with a clip from former Counter-terrorism Adviser Richard Clarke's 2004 Congressional testimony, wherein he openly apologized to the families of the victims of 9/11, on behalf of the U.S. Government, for having failed them.

Then, comes this...

Good evening, I’m Will McAvoy, this is News Night and that was a clip of Richard Clarke, former counter terrorism chief to President George W. Bush, testifying before Congress on March 24, 2004. Americans like that moment. I like that moment. Adults should hold themselves accountable for failure. And so tonight, I’m beginning this newscast by joining Mr. Clark and apologizing to the American people for our failure – the failure of this program during the time I’ve been in charge of it to successfully inform and educate the American electorate.

Let me be clear that I don’t apologize on behalf of all broadcast journalists, nor do all broadcast journalists owe an apology. I speak for myself. I was an accomplice to a slow and repeated and unacknowledged and unamended train wreck of failures that have brought us to now. I’m a leader in an industry that miscalled election results, hyped up terror scares, ginned up controversy and failed to report on tectonic shifts in our country, from the collapse of the financial system to the truths about how strong we are to the dangers we actually face. I’m a leader in an industry that misdirected your attention with the dexterity of Harry Houdini, while sending hundreds of thousands of our bravest young men and women off to war without due diligence.

The reason we failed isn’t a mystery – we took a dive for the ratings.

In the infancy of mass communication, the Columbus and Magellan of broadcast journalism, William Paley and David Sarnoff, went down to Washington to cut a deal with Congress. Congress would allow the fledgling networks free use of taxpayer-owned airwaves in exchange for one public service. That public service would be one hour of airtime set aside every night for informational broadcasting, or what we now call the evening news.

Congress, unable to anticipate the enormous capacity television would have to deliver consumers to advertisers, failed to include in its deal the one requirement that would have changed our national discourse immeasurably for the better – Congress forgot to add that under no circumstances could there be paid advertising during informational broadcasting. They forgot to say the taxpayers will give you the airwaves for free and for 23 hours a day, you should make a profit, but for one hour a night, you work for us.

And now those network newscasts, anchored through history by honest-to-God newsmen with names like Murrow and Reasoner and Huntley and Brinkley and Buckley and Cronkite and Rather and Russert…now, they have to compete with the likes of me, a cable anchor who’s in the exact same business as the producers of “Jersey Shore.”

And that business was good to us. But News Night is quitting that business right now. It might come as a surprise to you that some of history’s greatest American journalists are working right now. Exceptional minds with years of experience and an unshakable devotion to reporting the news. But these voices are a small minority now and they don’t stand a chance against the circus when the circus comes to town. They’re over matched. I’m quitting the circus, switching teams. I’m going with the guys who are getting creamed. I’m moved. They still think they can win and I hope they can teach me a thing or two.

From this moment on, we’ll be deciding what goes on our air and how it’s presented to you based on the simple truth that nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate. We’ll endeavor to put information in a broader context because we know that very little news is born at the moment it comes across our wire.

We’ll be the champion of facts and the mortal enemy of innuendo, speculation, hyperbole and nonsense. We’re not waiters in a restaurant, serving you the stories you asked for, just the way you like them prepared. Nor are we computers, dispensing only the facts because news is only useful in the context of humanity. I’ll make no effort to subdue my personal opinions. I will make every effort to expose you to informed opinions that are different from my own.

You may ask who are we to make these decisions. We are MacKenzie McHale and myself. Ms. McHale is our executive producer. She marshals the resources of over 100 reporters, producers, analysts and technicians and her credentials are readily available. I’m News Night’s managing editor and make the final decision on everything seen and heard on this program.

Who are we to make these decisions? We are the media elite.

We’ll be back after this with the news…

Can a fictional show on HBO change the way actual news is reported in this nation? That remains to be seen. It's a long shot, but I wouldn't call it impossible. I suspect the folks in the real newsrooms --- both inside and outside The Beltway --- are now watching every single episode of this show, whether they'll admit it to you or not.

HuffPo's Howard Fineman, formerly of WaPo and then Newsweek, writes, "After three episodes, I confess that I am all-in on The Newsroom."

He goes on to say: "McAvoy's rules are worth thinking about, and, generally, worth admiring and striving to follow. Viewers/readers/voters would be better served if we in the business worked harder to remember and honor the McAvoy rules."

You'll have to watch the show yourself for all of those "rules". But Fineman's words, in any case, are encouraging.

So go watch it. Or subscribe to HBO. Or whatever you need to do. You can thank me later.

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