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Aaron Sorkin Continues To Work Out His Issues With Ex-Girlfriends Through His Show

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | July 22, 2013 | Comments ()


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The oldest bit of writing advice is, of course, “write what you know.” And with the exception of “The West Wing,” Aaron Sorkin has made a pretty impressive TV career out of writing exactly what he knows: the art of putting on a show. His series “Sports Night,” “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip,” “The Newsroom” (and, if you really want to go there, “The West Wing”) all involve the writers, producers and shapers who work behind-the-scenes of a production. He’s always been a deeply personal writer and when his characters clamber up on their (ever-present) soapboxes, you can practically hear Sorkin speaking the grandiose and cock-eyed idealistic words that come tumbling out.

And that’s all well and good in my book. I’m a renowned Sorkin apologist and will staunchly defend “The Newsroom” against all-comers. But one habit he has that doesn’t sit well with me is his tendency to write versions of or make reference to his ex-girlfriends in his shows. This practice first became apparent to me when Sorkin based the female lead in “Studio 60” on his ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth (of Broadway, “West Wing” and Pie Hole fame.) Sorkin did this with his ex’s permission but proceeded to take some vey public digs at Chenoweth (specifically her decision to appear on “The 700 Club,” her salacious “FHM” photo shoot and, most uncomfortably, her Christian faith).
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Last season on “The Newsroom,” one of the chief antagonists was a trashy tabloid columnist based on a woman Sorkin dated briefly. Once again he did this with her permission and in this case, at least, the Sorkin ex got an amazing column out of the public dressing down. If you haven’t read Mandy Stadtmiller’s piece I sort of loved it. It’s funny and mostly self-aware. But here is Sorkin’s money quote on gossip columnists as spoken by his protagonist Will McAvoy:

“I’m not putting you down. I’m just saying that what you do is a really bad form of pollution that makes us dumber and meaner and is destroying civilization. I’m saying, with all possible respect, that I would have more respect for you if you were a heroin dealer. And I’m speaking professionally, not personally.”

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So this is a thing Sorkin does. It’s a known, established thing. Which brings us to last night. During a pretty great scene in a really great episode of “The Newsroom,” Alison Pill’s character, Maggie, hunts down a blogger in a laundromat and entreats her to remove a Youtube video of Maggie ranting about “Sex And The City.” The rant, which was in last season’s finale and has been replayed twice already this season, goes a little something like this:

And who was Sorkin dating when “The Newsroom” was released? That would be “Sex And The City” actress Kristin Davis aka Charlotte York.
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Yeah so who knows what Kristin Davis actually thinks of “Sex And The City.” Heck, maybe she even helped Sorkin write that incredibly pointed take down of the show that made her famous. (I don’t disagree with said take down, for the record.) At any rate, Davis and Sorkin have since split and the laundromat scene in last night’s episode ended with Olivia Munn’s character (through gritted teeth) exclaiming that she likes “Charlotte.” What was that about? Who knows. An apology? Maybe. A cute shout out? Possibly. Charitably. What I do know is that I’m sick and tired of Sorkin working through his ex-girlfriend issues on-air. It’s one thing to write what you know. It’s quite another thing to publicly scold versions of your exes over and over. The word that comes to mind is “unseemly.” And I like Sorkin. I think he’s very talented. But what can I say, I’m on a mission to civilize.
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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Fan

    I don't understand why Sorkin gets blasted for this. Other than it becoming a little boring because he does it again and again, but when musicians write albums working through ex-issues, they win Grammys.

  • Bananapanda

    My problem is every Sorkin show has an unwatchable character - Natalie on Sports Night, Mandy then often Donna or Mary Louise Parker's character on West Wing and now Maggie. They have plot lines that don't matter, relationships that are stupid and quickly sinking IQs.

  • Jezzer

    Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, Sorkins gotta douchebag.

  • e jerry powell

    'Til he dies.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I'm just glad I now have confirmation they've broken up. I like Aaron Sorkin, but yet really, really didn't want him with Kristin Davis, who I would stalk if I were a stalker.

  • Ian Fay

    In other news, water is wet and kittens are cute. :)

  • PaddyDog

    Since there appear to be some actual Newsroom watchers on this thread I have to ask: does anyone care at all about Maggie and Jim's relationship? Last season I started fast forwarding through any scene that was about "them". This season I'm hoping they keep Jim on the bus for as long as possible because the show just comes to a screeching halt when their completely ridiculous non-relationship takes up space (IMO).

  • Having been in completely ridiculous non-relationships I was interested in them for the first half of season 1 as a couple and didn't begrudge the screen time as the season progressed because often we got bits about each character's back story (Maggie's panic attacks for example).

    That being said, I appreciate that there is physical space between them now so we can back away from their codependent self-destructive loop. Jim's character puts it quite succinctly in this episode with "I didn't like normal" when talking to Grace Gummer's character. I'm much more intrigued with what happens with Don and Sloan. I have a feeling that this season will be focusing more on things happening in the newsroom, and it looks like Jim and Maggie will be passing like ships in the night. But I could be very wrong.

  • foolsage

    At this point, Maggie has burned most of her bridges, and isn't a terribly sympathetic character.

  • sean

    That is actually is a problem for me. They are making her unlikable. And clearly something horrible is going to happen to her in Africa. So it seems Sorkin wants to punish the character for her flaws. It is just icky to me.

  • PaddyDog

    Yes, that's much of my problem (and I like Alison Pill) right there. I find it difficult to understand why she still has a job let alone two men interested in her. And Jim just seems to amble into relationships because they are convenient. FaintingViolet is right that Don/Sloan are far more interesting

  • foolsage

    I don't think at this point Maggie has two men interested in her. I'm not even sure that she has one. Don is sick of her shit and Jim fled just to get away from her. I, too, quite like Allison Pill, but Maggie? I would not care to have her as a friend.

    Don/Sloan are a far more compelling couple, no doubt.

  • logan

    Why does the producer lady always have high beams and/or her boobs bouncing under a sheer blouse? It just seems incongruous to her character. Anyone else notice this?

  • sean

    Maybe it is cold in the studio? And is this really something to complain about. It seems a nice little bonus to me.

  • This can be a problem for me when it takes me out of the narrative. I was pulled out of what Sloan was doing for Maggie with the "I lIke Charlotte" line. My brain immediately pulled up the bit of knowledge that Sorkin dated Davis.

    I suppose it didn't bother me in Studio 60 because I didn't know Sorkin had dated Chenoweth until after I viewed the show.

  • PaddyDog

    I have a lot of things to say about Sorkin, but the first thing that comes to mind after seeing that picture is that somebody needs to tell him about sun screen.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Eh. This would be a non-issue if people didn't pay attention to who he dates and vice versa.

    I feel like most people who watch are on to him anyway. That's the thing about his writing - he writes didactly, and yet he barely has the ability to swing my opinion on anything.

  • alwaysanswerb

    I agree that a lot of the "issue" disappears if you know nothing about Sorkin's personal life (I didn't/don't, so this piece was literally new information to me,) but I'm still okay with him getting called out like this. Like Joanna says, everyone is universally given the advice to write what you know, and most people take it (at least initially.) But I rather feel like these autobiographical inferences are much more of a talking point when women do it. Whether the conversation is positive or negative, a lot of breath is spent discussing the men that women write about, and a lot of judgment is passed on those women for how exactly they handled the reference. Is it petty and bitter and oversharing (Taylor Swift)? Soulful and mostly sympathetic (Adele)? Coy and mysterious (Carly Simon "You're So Vain"?) No one ever brings up "You Oughta Know" anymore without someone mentioning it's about Uncle Joey.

    It's not like I think this particular double standard is worth going to war over, but it seems to stem from this notion that artistically, men have "muses," and women have messy emotions that we need to talk about publicly. It's nice to occasionally point out exceptions to that "rule" (because it's not a rule. Just a pattern of noticing some things more than others.)

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Those are excellent points.

  • Wednesday

    I don't pay any attention to who he dates, and I like his work, mostly, but even I am getting sick of his personal "issues" that obviously bleed through to the show.

    These are professional people who are acting like middle schoolers. I think Sorkin rarely gets romantic relationships right. It's his Achilles heel.

  • Ruthie O

    I was going to write a much longer post about his issues writing romantic relationships, but you summed it up so completely! I'm rewatching the West Wing right now, and I'm seeing how much he struggles with romance. While there are notable exceptions (the First Couple), he's proven to be great at writing chemistry and tension, but can't really get the next step down.

    In the first season of WW alone, you have Sam and Call Girl, Sam and Mallory, Josh and Joey, Josh and Mandy, and CJ and Danny. Nothing ever gets off the ground because he doesn't really know how.

  • I'm afraid that too many workplaces are just like middle school (I know several of mine have been) so I'm not bothered by it.

  • Milly

    But how do you know what are the writers personal issues if you don't pay attention to who he dates or what he voices in public etc (not that you said the latter part)?

  • Wednesday

    It comes through so loud and clear in his characters and his dialogue. He's the world's LEAST naturalistic writer. I don't actually have a problem with that, but every line is crafted to be part of a position paper. It puts his predilections on public display, whether they're political or personal.

    (And that's way too many "p's" for one sentence.)

  • John G.

    So, Aaron Sorkin is Taylor Swift? That explains why I can never get through The Social Network without wanting to gouge out my ears.

  • Every time Maggie gets high pitched, all I hear is Yelling Goat.

  • Hiff Cluxtable

    Maybe you know way too much about his personal life. I had no idea he dated any of these women.

    The first two are obviously drawn from his life, but Sarah Polley's character always comes out on top of arguments in Studio 60. He's presenting both sides of the argument, and in the end it's himself he dresses down.

    As for the most recent--in no way was that a take-down of SITC. Fan fiction writers, maybe.

  • Three_nineteen

    I agree. Matthew Perry's character does not win those arguments. And IIRC I agree with most of what he says, but Sarah Polley's character always comes off better in those exchanges.

  • rio

    Sarah Paulson not Polley. just fyi

  • Hiff Cluxtable

    Haha, I'm a dummy.

  • Three_nineteen

    Argh yes. My apologies to both Sarahs.

  • John W

    My favorite part is when Mackenzie tells the new guy to lighten up. Oh the irony.

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