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A Scott Pukos Pop-Ed: Pitching My Newsroom Sitcom (That May or May Not Be Called ‘News Nuts’)


I’ve been thinking about the newsroom a lot lately.

Not the Jeff Daniels/Aaron Sorkin HBO newsroom,* but a real one. I'm talking about a newsroom that produces a small-town newspaper every day, and one that houses a cast of characters that are probably way too weird for television. Then again, maybe they're perfect for TV.

My running joke at work (Note: I work at a newspaper) is that I should write a newsroom sitcom loosely based off my experiences. It's commonplace to have comedies about work life, but nothing lends itself to humor more than the news business. I'm not talking about highlighting people who work at a media giant like in Sorkin's show, either. I'm talking about working at a newspaper in a small community — where the staff handles multiple jobs and the anecdotes are plentiful.

So, this is my pitch to HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Hulu or anyone that will have me. This is why you should give me a lot of money to make my newsroom comedy/future masterpiece ...

I'll start with the network. Sorry NBC, FOX, ABC and definitely CBS. I'm going for a level of realism in this show, so we're going to be saying "fuck," and we’re going to be saying it a lot.

My working title as of right now is News Nuts. It'll probably change since that sounds more like a comic strip than Emmy bait. On one of our office whiteboards someone once wrote, "Messengers of Hope." I have no idea what the context was, but that stuck with me. At this point, it's definitely a frontrunner for the show's title. The name's not vital though — that can come last. The more important aspect right now is the characters, their story arcs, the jokes and plot details. The main protagonist will most likely be a young reporter, simply because that's the easiest demographic for me to write dialogue for. The rest of the cast will consist of young newsroom friends, veteran news folk, mentors, interns and people the main character meets throughout his reporting travels.

I've always preferred shows that begin with a cold open before the theme song/opening credits. (I'm taking auditions to write, perform and record the theme. Apply in the comment section.) In its prime, The Office was a master of the cold open, and that's my inspiration here.

The most obvious setup for jokes comes from the newsroom scanner (news friends are nodding their heads). These scanner voices are characters themselves. For instance, a running joke could be that one voice sounds exactly like John Goodman, and guess who we can have in a guest appearance role? That's right, welcome to News Nuts, Mr. Jonathan Goodman! Aside from voices, the scanner can provide other moments of hilarity — our cast will listen to police describe their efforts to chase down a woman after throwing a bag of sex toys against a neighbor's home, or the newsroom staff will riff on the scanner chatter of an alleged porcupine fight on the side of the road.

"Sounds like there were some pricks involved." (This stuff writes itself.)

My favorite cold open idea was something that I actually wanted to film in my newsroom, but unfortunately, haven't gotten the chance yet. The idea is simple: Banana phones. After a couple episodes to establish the characters, our show will open with each person talking on the phone … only the phone is a banana. It could mimic regular dialogue with a source, someone hearing bad news, a demand for ransom, whatever. Trust me, this is funny. The scene will end with someone dressed in a banana suit talking on a regular phone, and yelling to the people in the newsroom to be quiet, they're trying to have a serious conversation. Again, they're dressed like a giant banana. Put an Emmy on it!

People love romance in their shows, so we'll definitely be providing some newsroom hookups. Most shows — including The Newsroom — settle for love triangles, this show will ramp things up with a love rhombus.

While I'm still working on all the sides to the romance rhombus, I think this story arc will start with a crush. The storyline will grow throughout the first season, and culminate with a newsroom confession toward the finale. And it will end with … rejection. You can't be too kind on these characters, after all, some tears will help make the laughs more worthwhile.

Also, I was a little misleading with my earlier claim that this would be a sitcom. I'm definitely classifying it as a comedy, but it will have plenty of drama — and heart — too (and zero fake studio audience laughter). Our fearless main character may dive into another office relationship after that first failed attempt. It will seem like a successful one this time too, but in Ted Mosby-like fashion, this relationship will ultimately end in heartbreak. If I really want to be cruel, I'll plot the dumping around the time of a tragic news story. While that could be excessive, I think it would work from a storytelling point of view. Either way, it does bring up another vital character in this program — the news.

We'll work tragedy into the storyline, but mix in some levity too.

The scene: Our main character is stationed on a deserted country road in December (setting is the northwest, so, yeah, it's cold), in the middle of the night to cover a potential fatality. He'll jump as he sees something emerging from the shadows toward him. But, it's just a cat. A friendly feline. Then another cat pops out scaring his photographer, and another emerges near the sheriff's deputy at the scene. A car pulls up the driveway, its headlights revealing a whole den of cats — sinister and lurking — outside the crime scene. I'll lay off the cat puns while writing this scene, but only barely.

Other news plots won't concentrate on huge breaking news or deaths, but instead the everyday, smaller items that a reporter deals with, such as covering city council meetings, town board gatherings, planning board sessions, board of education discussion, court cases and — ugh — ribbon cuttings.

Some fun stories will be mixed in too. For instance, the tale of a man trekking across the state on foot, with his 200-pound mannequin wife (Spoiler: He won't be played by Ryan Gosling). There will also be some goofy celebrity interviews (perfect for more guest spots!). That second part is really just my plan to meet Lizzy Caplan and/or Jennifer Lawrence.

I'm on a roll here.

We'll have a whole Election Night episode, but it will mostly deal with newsroom pizza. Where will they get the pizza from? Who will order it? Delivery or pickup? What toppings?! What’s the best slice in a sheet pizza? All the important stuff. Sample dialogue: "The best spot is the center … All the cheese floats to the middle." Wise editor/pizza guru.

We'll have bottle episodes too, which are mostly for cost-saving purposes. (Hey, that's a theme that fits the setting!) A bottle episode uses limited cast, sets, etc. Think The Fly episode of Breaking Bad. How about this for the perfect bottle episode: A couple characters find themselves in a situation where they have to spend the night in the newsroom (during a snowstorm perhaps?). Some great potential there, including the fear that the newsroom morphs into a Night at the Museum fantasy world during early morning hours. This will also be a good chance to develop the romantic storylines, because nothing says love like sharing a flask with your crush ... and a gruff pressroom worker.

To keep up with the semi-realistic nature of the show, we'll be stockpiling antagonists too. But even these "bad guys" will be realistic, fleshed out characters. There won't be any con men trying to rip off the town with a faulty monorail system or CEOs with a flair for cartoonish greed firing everyone. Our villains here aren't Voldemort or a demented Scrooge McDuck — they're going to be actual people. People who perhaps will have to cut staff in the story, but while they do that, they also will get a scene of them sneaking to the bathroom to cry. They'll get scenes to showcase the state of insomnia and guilt they're stuck in — it's definite Emmy material. Still, if the antagonist is clashing with our main cast, the audience is going to boo them, and take to messageboards to belittle the actors/actresses that play them. That's just how things are. You'll have to roll with it.

That brings me to a later season plot twist that I'll certainly dread writing: Cutting cast with a layoff plot. They'll still be on the show, just not as main castmembers. They were, unfortunately, a victim of our goal to be realistic in this fictional world. But I'll cheat a little. Instead of awkward or non-existent goodbyes, I'll write pages of dialogue where one character tells his departing friends and talented cohorts how awesome they truly are, and how much he'll miss having them around. All thoughts will be perfectly articulated. The goodbye scene will be emotional (you will cry), but also filled with hope. (Like the title! We're coming full circle here.) The scene will start to wrap up, and the first few chords of Arcade Fire's Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)** will fill the TV's speakers. At this point, you'll really start crying. It will be shameless emotional manipulation, but whatever, this is my show, and I can do what I want.

Boom. Roll credits.

Now, like any true newsman/writer/pretend screenwriter, I'm going to get some Scotch.

*It gets a lot of hate, but I actually enjoy The Newsroom quite a bit. To me, it's just an enjoyable show.  **The soundtrack is going to be a mix of indie and mainstream artists. Because I'm weird, I already have a playlist started: Breezeblocks by alt-J, Ball and Biscuit by The White Stripes, Sea of Love and for the election episode, Mr. November by The National, Plenty of Girls in the Sea by MGMT, Excuses by The Morning Benders, Hannah Hunt by Vampire Weekend, Everlasting Light by The Black Keys, Someday by The Strokes, Gone by Kanye West, Yakety Sax by Boots Randolph, and every Arctic Monkeys song.
A Scott Pukos Pop-Ed: Pitching My Newsroom Sitcom (That May or May Not Be Called ‘News Nuts’) Reviewed by Scott Pukos on 11/22/2013 Rating: 5

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