In this week’s Newsweek, I write about The Hour—and why we need stories about real journalism now more than ever:
The decision to set a scripted drama in the grubby ghetto of journalism works so well on The Hour that it can seem like something of a revelation. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Earlier generations were always alive to the dramatic possibilities of the press. Long before cable news, journalistic plotlines propelled many of Hollywood’s most vibrant productions: His Girl Friday, Meet John Doe, Foreign Correspondent, Deadline USA, Absence of Malice, The Parallax View, All the President’s Men—the list goes on. Even Superman moonlighted as a hack. But as respect for the media has dwindled, so too has the number of shows and films that dramatize what journalists do. Aaron Sorkin should get credit for reanimating the genre last summer with The Newsroom. But Sorkin’s show is far more concerned with the failures of postmodern punditry than the ins and outs of breaking news. Morgan doesn’t have to tell us that her characters are good reporters. She just shows them reporting—stylized, heightened, noir-ish reporting, but reporting nonetheless. Viewers haven’t the faintest clue who beat up Kiki Delane, a showgirl who looks like Janet Leigh and sounds like Amy Winehouse, or what some plutocratic defense contractors have to do with it. But neither do Bel, Freddie, and Hector. We pursue the story together, interview by interview, document by document, scoop by scoop—just like our counterparts on screen.
This is what makes The Hour so relevant today: the reporter’s timeless urge to “shake it all up.” Many critics have noted how The Hour’s narratives seem to echo current events: chaos in Egypt; prejudice against immigrants; nuclear paranoia; corruption in the English press. But it’s the process that’s important here, not the product—how the fresh stories beneath those all-too-familiar headlines are uncovered, generation after generation, by dogged, idealistic irritants like Freddie Lyon. By making a hero of him, and of his co-conspirators, Morgan avoids Mad Men’s suspended-in-amber inertia. For all its retro beauty, The Hour is never merely a show about the way we were. It’s also a show about the way we should be now, and always strive to be.
Read the rest here.
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