Is Hollywood writer plagiarizing his own material?
Is a noted Hollywood writer, a graduate of Syracuse University, and creator of shows like "The West Wing," really stealing material? Writer Aaron Sorkin, who recently launched his latest series, "The Newsroom" on HBO, finds himself under fire for lifting dialog and scenes. But, keep in mind, the dialog and scenes he's re-using are from his own work. YNN's Bill Carey says this episode begins at SU's commencement back in May.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It was Aaron Sorkin's message to the class of 2012. A commencement address touching on the challenges and promise of young graduates leaving the safety of the classroom.
But one member of the audience, who also worked on the student newspaper, thought things sounded very familiar. Some research showed a good portion of the speech had come from a 1997 convocation address by Sorkin at SU. Other portions seemed to echo past television scripts.
The flap, fanned by critics, led self-described Sorkin fan, Kevin Porter, to assemble a lengthy déjà vu montage of Sorkin movies and TV programs.
“I think Sorkin is one of the best writers that has worked in this medium,” said Robert Thompson.
Thompson is a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University and also a Sorkin fan.
“Ripping off yourself, and I don't care what the official definition of plagiarism is, is not ripping off. It's like stealing from your own pocket,” Thompson said.
“He's darn good and he's given us a lot of great stuff,” said screenwriter Tom Seeley.
Seeley knows what it takes to fill a blank computer screen with a finished television script. He spent years writing for various comedy shows in Hollywood. Most recently, he wrote and directed a pilot for the Syracuse-based sitcom, “Upstate.” Mining past scripts, he says, can make sense.
“If you believe that those words help push that story forward, that make sense from that character, then I don't see the harm in it,” Seeley said.
Praise from TV writers has turned to growing criticism in recent years. Thompson says Sorkin's world view is a challenge.
“Every now and again, a Frank Capra-esque vision of an unrealistically better world. It's maybe a good rehearsal for us that live in a world that, of course, can never be perfect, but can always be a little better than it is,” Thompson said.
Seeley added, “You know, people have themes which they write about. And I think that these are themes that he believes and probably what makes his material so meaty and worthy and rich. Because they're things he really wants to say.”
And the way he says things has proven a success.
If you'd like to see the entire compilation of Sorkinisms assembled by Kevin Porter, visit www.youtube.com.