ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe on Consulting for ‘The Newsroom’

Sep 13, 2013 1:49pm
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ABC News

This week we asked our own Shushannah Walshe, a digital political journalist at ABC News, about what it was like to work as a consultant for HBO’s  ”The Newsroom,“ which wraps its second season this month.

1. You consulted for season 2 of “The Newsroom.” How’d you get the gig?

SW: Aaron Sorkin reached out to me over email to see if I would be interested in consulting about the campaign parts of “The Newsroom.” I was in the middle of covering my second campaign “on the bus” and he wanted someone who could tell him what it was really like to be a campaign reporter: the good, the bad and the logistics. Rick Kaplan, a veteran news executive, including about 20 years at ABC News, put us in touch.

2. What was it like working with Aaron Sorkin? What did your role entail? What type of stuff did he want to know?

SW: It was amazing. He’s brilliant, and it was an opportunity I could never have imagined presenting itself. He would email me questions or describe different scenarios, and I would answer, give my thoughts and weigh in with a straight answer, or how I thought a scene would or could play out. Some of the questions were simple like: “What would you eat?” My answer, as you can see on the show, was turkey sandwiches. That really came from covering Mitt Romney’s 2008 primary campaign as opposed to any of the 2012 campaigns. It became a funny running theme shared by both the reporters  and staff working on that race. Other questions included everything from “How do you transmit video?” to “When and how do you talk to your boyfriend?” to “What is the dynamic on the bus or plane”  to more specific questions like “How do you shoot, write, transmit and do everything yourself?” Which, people who have done it understand, but is quite unbelievable to actually describe.

3. There’s a young female campaign embed in the show played by Grace Gummer, who is Meryl Streep’s daughter. Is that character based on you and how closely did you work with Gummer?

SW: I actually did not work with Grace at all, but I did meet her at the premiere and she was lovely, beautiful and really fun to chat with. I actually worked almost exclusively with Aaron Sorkin, as opposed to the actors, and then some of what we spoke about would help him write the series. The question: “Is Hallie you?” or “Are you Hallie?” is one I have been getting recently, but while I hope I helped to create part of Hallie, she really is Aaron Sorkin’s creation. I do adore the character, her toughness and how aggressive she is, but I’m a little less edgy, and I definitely would have helped Jim shoot that stand up. But I do love her. She’s my favorite, but  I guess I’m biased.

4. How much pressure did you feel to be on point in the advice you gave Sorkin, knowing that you could  directly inspire his writing?

SW:I actually felt a lot of pressure to make sure everything was obviously right but also detailed and expansive enough to help answer his questions. This isn’t something I had ever done before or thought I would ever do, so I wanted to make sure he had enough to work with and everything explained in quite a detailed way. I think it was successful! Obviously, not nearly everything we discussed, or I’m sure what the other consultants contributed, was used because there needs to be a drama in television that doesn’t appear in our regular lives, but I think the season has been compelling, hilarious and, of course, fun to watch.

5. How realistic is “The Newsroom’s” take on the campaign embed experience?

SW: I think there are parts of it that are quite realistic, and other parts are there for dramatic effect. One example that I mentioned is Hallie not helping Jim shoot the stand up. There is obviously competition and rivalry, but in the end these are people you travel with and they do become close friends of yours. The face-off on the bus where Jim and Hallie and another campaign reporter end up on the side of the road may not be realistic, but that sentiment that you really want answers to your questions and not just talking points is definitely real. I think what Sorkin does is turn the embed experience into something more fun to watch because it is at times the most exciting  job in the world, but on other days it can be quite a grind. I did love the small descriptive bits that were incredibly realistic, from turkey sandwiches to the Nashua Holiday Inn, which is supposed to be the New Hampshire reporter haunt: the Manchester Radisson.

6.  Jeff Daniels tweeted that season 3 of “The Newsroom” was  happening. Do you plan to consult for season 3 too?

SW: I believe it’s not definite yet, but if there is another season I would love to. We will see if it does indeed happen and if I’m even needed, since it will definitely be less politics heavy than the campaign season. But it was an incredible experience that I would jump at if asked again.

7. Bonus question for “Newsroom” fans: Jim or Don?

SW: This is a hard one! I know I should have an attachment to Jim because of his time on the campaign trail, and I do, but there is something about Don that I just love. He’s very to the point but also hilarious. I’m rooting for him and Sloan.

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