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).
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.”
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.
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.