The Newsroom has a way of making some journalists grind their teeth. The HBO show, which started its second season last Sunday, boils down the profession into all too neat a package, depicting a world of journalistic intrigue, endless drama, and moral certitude. It seems light years away from the daily grind of unreturned phone calls and bad coffee. But for all the griping that journalists have about the show (while still watching it), they are unabashedly enthusiastic about a parody Twitter account of the show’s main character.
@willmcavoyacn is the Twitter handle of a 29-year-old man who wishes to remain nameless because he spends his day writing copy for a major airline. In his free time, he tweets under the adopted persona of The Newsroom’s main character, centrist news anchor Will McAvoy, to over 55,000 followers—more than many real on-air personalities or political commentators. Dave Weigel of Slate finds the account to be “well done” and “better than the show.” Another Washington political reporter just described it as “fucking genius.”
This isn’t “McAvoy’s” first Sorkin parody Twitter account. He has also tweeted as another Aaron Sorkin character, President Josiah Bartlet from The West Wing, for several years. But when The Newsroom first aired, he embraced the opportunity to tweet as McAvoy for a “new challenge.” As he told The Daily Beast, “The voice is similar to Bartlet in many ways, but it had more freedom. I can curse as McAvoy. The only time I could curse as Bartlet was when it was in Latin, so that was freeing.”
For “McAvoy,” the new character also presents another significant challenge. While he started tweeting as Bartlet after The West Wing ended, The Newsroom is an ongoing program. McAvoy’s backstory is still filled with holes, and his character is not yet fully developed. This leaves “McAvoy” with anxiety and opportunity as he absorbs the new season. “It's going to be an interesting challenge to maintain the character as it grows and changes and evolves,” he said. “That's a huge part of writing, and I think the next few months are going to be challenging, engrossing, and I hope they will make me a better writer.”
“McAvoy’s” other challenge is staying in character. Sorkin writes in a very distinctive voice that can be difficult to capture. His Twitter doppelgänger goes back and watches clips to keep the right tone in his tweets. “The opening scene works great if I'm going off on a rant,” said “McAvoy.” “The Gabby Giffords episode is one I turn to a lot, because it uses words a lot more economically, which is important for Twitter. If I'm just looking for snark, I have a couple Newsroom scenes I watch, but I also turn to Sports Night [an older Sorkin show] a lot for that as well. William H. Macy's speech on Philo T. Farnsworth, for example, is Sorkin 101 and is both full of his trademarks and extremely cleverly written.”
For all of “McAvoy’s” angst about staying in character and keeping up with the changes in Season 2, it seems he has already achieved a certain mind meld with Sorkin.
For all of “McAvoy’s” angst about staying in character and keeping up with the changes in Season 2, it seems he has already achieved a certain mind meld with Sorkin. In the first episode of Season 2, Will McAvoy is depicted kicking back and listening to Van Morrison’s song “Into the Mystic.” This came as no surprise to his Twitter alter ego, who, almost a year ago, decided that Sorkin’s character would be a Van Morrison fan and even tweeted a top-five list of the character’s favorite Van Morrison songs.
The account doesn’t just opine on music. “McAvoy” also captures the centrist politics of the character. He disparages Tea Partiers, is skeptical about immigration reform, and tough on the standards of cable news. “McAvoy” exchanges messages with a variety of other Twitter users, ranging from fellow news junkies to well-known journalists like David Frum and Mark Halperin, engaging in policy debates that are sometimes edgier and more intelligent than your typical cable-news conversation. As “McAvoy” says, “I generally respond when people tweet at me, though the pure volume of followers has made that harder.”
Although “McAvoy” declines to disclose his identity, he’s hoping to use his experience to get into television writing and is already working on a spec script for a Season 3 of The Newsroom. The original impetus for his Twitter accounts was a way to get rid of writer’s block and write more like Aaron Sorkin. It is a tribute to Sorkin’s writing that the characters he created can inspire such fully formed fan tributes that they are able to wade into online debates untethered to their maker.
“McAvoy” doesn’t necessarily expect that his Twitter career will lead to success as a writer, and he is still a little starstruck by the entire experience. “If nothing [else] comes from it, I've still made some really great friends, entertained some people, and had chats with some reporters I probably never would have otherwise. It's of great amusement to me the sheer number of reporters and journalists that follow me on Twitter. I still get giddy when a new one follows me.”
He shouldn’t be surprised with the number of journalists who follow him, though. After all, they seem to like his pitch-perfect Twitter account even more than they like the actual show.