The Most Misunderstood Man in 'News'
The word "misunderstood" is thrown around a lot regarding The Newsroom -- according to creator Aaron Sorkin, it applies to the critic's perception of his show and the audience's perception of his characters.
But according to Thomas Sadoski, Don Keefer isn't misunderstood by the audience; they simply have been biased by the show positioning Jim and Maggie as the couple to root for because when you look at things from Don's perspective, he's actually the one getting a raw deal.
Chatting with Thomas provided an interesting expectation recalibration as he not only detailed the myriad of ways Don has been done wrong, but revealed a charmingly laid-back attitude about it. Although I'm sure Thomas wishes his parents weren't on Jim's side so much...
TheInsider.com: What initially attracted you to Don?
Thomas Sadoski: Well, Don was originally three different characters. And after our first table read, Aaron compressed them into one and gave it to me, saying, "Good luck!" [laughs] There was an executive producer named Don, then there was Maggie's boyfriend, who was sort of a dick and then there was a third guy, but frankly I can't remember what he did – but they all became one person, and there was some residual stuff from each of them in the first episode.
Insider.com: Oh, that's interesting because I did feel like Don was a bit all over the place at first. Moving beyond the pilot, what was important to you in terms of shaping him?
Thomas: It was important to both Aaron and I that Don not be dismissible. Aaron isn't interested in writing two-dimensional characters, so there was no doubt in my mind that there wouldn’t be a development for this character. But right out of the gate, it was important to establish him as a foil to what was going on. I think that was why he's asked to help ease the transition from his regime to Mackenzie's regime. The fact Don hasn't been fired and is brought in for damage control is an indication of how essential and capable he is in there. He may not be the chummiest guy, but he is respected by everyone there and is a worthwhile member of the team.
Insider.com: And yet the audience doesn't love him -- do you think he's misunderstood?
Thomas: No, I don't think he's misunderstood. It's interesting to me because I know the script, but when re-watch the episodes, there is a feeling of Don being a horrible dick because he won't meet Maggie's parents. But if you listen, they've only been together for 3 months in an on-again/off-again relationship. What guy wants to meet the parents after a contentious three months?!? Then, for the 16 weeks before The Newsroom begins, Don has been getting screamed at by a horrible boss who not only treated Don terribly, but treated Don's girlfriend terribly. Then he has a nervous breakdown and suddenly Will is a changed man right after Don leaves. So he's left sitting there going, "How did that happen?" It's a worthwhile complaint that Don has in the beginning because Will treats everyone poorly. I think the majority of people are reading this character and his actions differently than I do.
Insider.com: Is that a frustrating or interesting experience?
Thomas: It's interesting. Aaron and I have wondered why people hate Don so much – we don't understand. I mean, it's amazing to me because it's somehow OK to people that Maggie is having this out in the open emotional affair with Jim and I'm somehow the bad guy [laughs]. I know that Don isn't the warmest, fuzziest guy – he's arrogant and a little full of himself, but he's kind of earned it. He's been running that place for a long time. Even my family want Maggie to end up with Jim. [laughs]
Thomas: Yea [laughs]. There's a disparity of opinion that ranges from friends and family. My father is rooting for Don, but he's not entirely sure that relationship is best for either him or Maggie. Plus, that Jim guy is so sweet. Maybe they belong together. And to a certain extent, my mom agrees. My wife is fully in the camp of whatever makes me happier [laughs], but it's pretty funny.
Insider.com: I think watching him side with Will in not prematurely pronouncing Gabby Giffords dead went a long way towards shifting the audience's impression of Don. Would you agree?
Thomas: A lot of people have actually brought that moment up to me as a turning point for the character – I felt it was too. Not because Don was any different than I had understood him to be, but because there was an acknowledgement from other people that he wasn't this guy they assumed him to be. People turned to Don in that moment of crisis to deliver the verdict. Some people thought Don "comes through" in that moment, but I don't think he does anything in that moment he hadn't been doing all along, you know? That was the truth, those are the standards they hold themselves to and they're not declaring someone dead before they know she is.
Insider.com: I asked John Gallagher Jr. this question as well, but taking Aaron Sorkin out of the equation, would you have been as interested in doing The Newsroom if it wasn't utilizing real world events?
Thomas: No. Like you said, taking Aaron out of the equation, I think that setting the show in the recent past provides us with incredible fertile storytelling soil. We're skating this really cool and complicated, but incredibly thrilling line between fantasy and reality. We're a scripted drama, but we don’t make up the news. What we're reporting on is what actually happened. Sure, there are fictional characters who show up, but the news and what those characters are saying all come directly from fact, so there is something really essential about that. We get to simultaneously live in this hyper-reality – we get to relive all these amazing news stories through fantasy eyes of fake people in a fake news show.
Insider.com: Judging from how quickly season one has moved through time, I would imagine much of season two [premiering summer 2013] will focus on the 2012 Presidential Election. What excites you about that possibility?
Thomas: I don't think that it's a stretch for me to say that I'm chomping at the bit to get back into season two. I thought Aaron did such a great job dealing with what politics has become in this country, that something as monumental as an election will be fascinating. Regardless of what side of the fence you sit on, this will be an important election and I'm curious to see how it will all be handled. I can't tell you how often this has happened, but people come up to me all the time after a big news story breaks and say to me, "I can't wait to see how The Newsroom handles this." And to me, that's the biggest compliment of all.
The Newsroom airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on HBO