Before the return of HBO’s The Newsroom, this country’s most hate-watchable show this side of reality television and vampire dramas, it’s time to remind ourselves, or just acquaint ourselves, with the first Newsroom. Neither hateful nor vampirey, The Newsroom (1997, with a return in 2005) was The Larry Sanders Show in a newsroom with a boss so awful that he’d make the original Office’s David Brent feel embarrassed. If you've never heard of this quality program, it’s because, natch, it was also Canadian.
Creator and Winnepeg-born Ken Finkleman is a screenwriter who’d had some success in America with bad sequels in the ‘80s (Airplane 2, Grease 2), but really found his niche making television in his homeland. Consider him a Canadian Larry David: he always plays the same unlikable, middle-aged character tripping into impossible, awkward scenarios. In The Newsroom, Finkleman is George, the producer of a news program on public television (like the CBC, not PBS) who as shallow as a Hollywood executive but with ten times the pretense.
Like Sanders, there are celebrity cameos, but these are Canadian celebrities, mostly from the world of news and punditry (although David Cronenberg does pop up, bless his soul). The first season of the show was spread across 1996-1997 and ended with a stretch of surreal, genius episodes, the last of which changed the show entirely, taking the characters out of the newsroom and onto the campaign trail as the idiot anchor runs for a provincial seat. Almost ten years later, the show returned with its original premise and much of the original cast, with George just as horrible (and hilarious) as ever.
It’s not entirely fair to compare the two Newsrooms, especially because the Canadian one is so original and funny and the American one is a recycled Sorkin slurry that is often funny by accident. Both are behind the scenes of network news, but the satirical, Canadian Newsroom seems a great deal more accurate. That is, maybe excluding the out of date hi-jinx of the first season. It’s not easy to find the Canadian series via streaming, but the box set is out there (as are some episodes on youtube). It's worth seeking out if you want to watch The Newsroom that won't fill you with loathing.