‘The Newsroom’: Lack of diversity on new HBO series is a familiar story

OPINION - Label me 'jaded' but I watch a fair amount of cable news programming and, while it is far from perfect, they aren’t quite as devoid of melanin as 'The Newsroom'...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

As expected, ratings for HBO’s latest series The Newsroom were solid, drawing over 2 million viewers. Critics’ reviews of the series from Aaron Sorkin, best known as the mastermind behind The West Wing and, more recently, for winning the best adapted screenplay Oscar for The Social Network, have been mixed. Of the flaws highlighted in nearly all of the early reviews, lack of diversity was not one of them.

Now it’s no secret that most television newsrooms are predominantly white, but are they really as white as depicted on The Newsroom? Throughout the premiere of The Newsroom, the only sign of diversity (other than Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel) I spied was that of a black woman and a black man both picking up phones to work on the breaking story of the BP oil spill.

Label me “jaded” but I watch a fair amount of cable news programming and, while it is far from perfect, they aren’t quite as devoid of melanin as The Newsroom. Like seriously, could the reporter on the scene at least have been something other than white?

What’s even worse, however, is most of the reviews fail to recognize this slight. And Mr. Sorkin has been here before. When The West Wing debuted in 1999, the NAACP spoke up against the all-white cast and, by the third episode, Dulé Hill showed up as Charlie Young, the president’s personal aide. But, still, the most active storyline Hill’s Charlie Young received on The West Wing revolved around his interracial relationship with the president’s daughter.

Romance may exactly explain why there are no major black characters on The Newsroom yet. Reviews have pointed to the show’s idealism and nostalgia for a time when “the news” or “the truth” reigned supreme, but a lot of the tension driving the premiere episode is the unresolved romantic relationship the anchor William McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) has with his new executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer).

Another subplot involves a romantic relationship between the recent intern promoted to associate producer within minutes, Margaret “Maggie” Jordan (Alison Pill), and Will’s former executive producer Don (Thomas Sadoski). There’s also a hint that Maggie might hook up with MacKenzie’s right-hand man and senior producer Jim Harper. Which may be apropos since MacKenzie, despite being far from secure in her job, is the one who promoted her.

Technically, IMDB lists the three black characters, Gary (Chris Chalk), Kendra (Adina Porter) and the “teleprompter operator” (Blaise Brooks), as being around for most of the series. Gary and Kendra are signed up for the full ten episodes while the “teleprompter operator” has only nine. Perhaps Gary and Kendra will become more integrated into the drama as the show goes on.