The gushing praise for Newsroom that HBO is highlighting in an ad campaign just seemed too good to be true to Jeff Bercovici, who noted the new Aaron Sorkin-created series was earning a "distinctly mediocre [score of] 57" on Metacritic.com. "Even those critics who’ve embraced it have generally done so with considerable caveats," the Forbes media critic noted.
So sure enough, upon closer examination, reviews by three major news outlets that HBO excerpted from in an ad in The Hollywood Reporter trade paper "were distinctly negative." With apologies to the Newsroom-philic disgraced former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, the words were accurate but the tone was fake (emphases mine):
The quote from the [The New York] Times, bannered atop the full width of the spread, reads: “Wit, sophistication and manic energy…A magical way with words…a lot of charm.”
Times TV critical Alessandra Stanley did write those words. But she also wrote, “[A]t its worst, the show chokes on its own sanctimony,” said it “ suffers from the same flaw that it decries on real cable shows on MSNBC or Fox News” and called the show’s central structural conceit “probably a mistake.”
Time’s James Poniewozik, summarizing his views on “The Newsroom” for non-subscribers, flatly declared, “I was not a fan.” Yet the ad makes it sound like he was, burbling, “The pacing is electric…captures the excitement.”
Salon’s Willa Paskin is quoted in the ad calling “The Newsroom” “captivating, riveting, rousing.” Here’s what she actually wrote: “The results are a captivating, riveting, rousing, condescending, smug, infuriating mixture, a potent potion that advertises itself as intelligence-enhancing but is actually just crazy-making.”
A scandal this is not. Movie studios have been doing this sort of thing, and getting called out for it, for decades. And, to be fair, a number of the reviews quoted in the ad are genuine raves.
But twisting slams to make them sound favorable is not something HBO has done much of in the past, or needed to, with most of its shows becoming instant critical darlings. The last new HBO series to fare this poorly with critics was the short-lived “John From Cincinnati,” which got a composite score of 51 on Metacritic.
Poniewozik says he doesn’t ever remember the network pulling this kind of chicanery with one of his reviews. “Ironic way to promote a journalism drama,” he says. He also fired off a string of tweets to this effect after I alerted him to the ad, and emailed HBO to complain.
For an archive of NewsBusters posts about Newsroom, click here.