Emmy- and Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) enjoyed seemingly ceaseless buzz leading up to the launch Sunday night of his new HBO drama The Newsroom. But all the attention failed to sway critics, who branded the behind-the-scenes look at a cable news program Sorkin's worst TV show yet. Now, the ratings are in for the premiere, and their meaning is igniting as much debate as the show itself. The premiere attracted 2.1 million viewers, shedding half of the audience that tuned in for the episode of True Blood that aired before it. Does that mean that The Newsroom flopped?
The numbers are not that disappointing: From the "glass-half-empty" perspective, says Josef Adalian at New York, these numbers are way lower that the Boardwalk Empire premiere in 2010 (4.8 million viewers), and don't signal that Newsroom has become "Required Viewing" for HBO subscribers. But on the more optimistic side, the premiere was on par with Game of Thrones' debut (2.2 million in 2010), much higher than True Blood's first episode (1.4 million in 2008), and twice as good as the premieres of Luck and Treme (1.1 million each). "It wouldn't be fair to call it a flop."
"2.1 million people watched the Newsroom premiere"
But they're still concerning: Sorkin should worry that Newsroom's ratings were so far below the benchmark set by Boardwalk Empire, says Alex Weprin at Mediabistro. Hour-long dramas are incredibly expensive to produce. While so-so ratings might be enough to get a cheaper half-hour comedy like Girls (which premiered to 1.1 million viewers) an instant second season pick-up from HBO, The Newsroom is hardly guaranteed the same. Besides, with Sorkin, a star-dotted cast, and "HBO's very-solid track record when it comes to developing high-quality programming," ratings expectations were far higher than what Newsroom delivered.
"The Newsroom debuts to 2.1 million viewers"
Either way, Newsroom gets "the last laugh": The ratings are solid enough that the team behind Newsroom can effectively dismiss the show's lousy reviews and call itself a success, says Joal Ryan at E! Online. Even if the numbers weren't through the roof, Newsroom's first episode was still HBO's third-most watched drama premiere since 2008 — bolstering the very-reasonable argument that HBO was smart to invest in Sorkin. Heck, even Dan Rather offered his stamp of approval in a review published on Gawker. This was a win for The Newsroom.
"Five reasons Aaron Sorkin's 'lousy' new show Newsroom got the last laugh"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Is kissing your kid on the lips creepy?
- House hunting: 7 stunning castles in Europe
- Want to eliminate the scourge of frat culture? Lower the drinking age.
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- Yes, the Obama administration's green loans are unprofitable. They should be.
Subscribe to the Week