When TV makes shows about TV, it rarely has a good word to say for itself. In the likes of W1A, The Day Today and, savagest of all, Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV, the industry has looked in the mirror and ripped itself to shreds. What all these comedies say, in their own way, is that most TV is bombastic, brain-dead, two-star crap put together in a blind panic and a moral vacuum by idiots and monsters. Second only to politics, it’s the satirists’ biggest sitting duck, the gift that can’t stop giving.
The Newsreader, a new newsroom drama, turns out to be cut from different cloth. It’s set in Australia and the 1980s, for one, which means it’s about neither here nor now. Prepare for niche references to Allan Border, or Allan Broader as he’s called by a debut anchorman nervously misreading the autocue. (For context, that’s a cricketing misnomer on a par with, say, Ben Strokes.) But you won’t actually need to know your baggy green captains to feel at home, or remember who crocodile-wrangling Paul Hogan is or was.
If time and place put The Newsreader at a double distance, the most alienating thing is that it’s actually quite sweet and warm. It would be easy to make fun of news bulletins in the pre-digital age, but that would be punching down. In the opening scene a chewed-up VHS tape establishes that we have travelled back to the past. Everything else still feels familiar. The boss is a shouty old bully. The senior newsreader is an ageing alpha male who conspires to keeps his ambitious female co-presenter down. Television still lives in a version of this world, what with women until recently denied equal pay by the BBC.
At the heart of the story is preppy young producer Dale Jennings (Sam Reid), a news nerd who practises his bulletin voice in the car and the bathroom.