I Inspired a "Bad" Version of Myself on Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom"

There's nothing like watching an evil version of yourself on HBO, fictionalized as a ruthless, corrupt, sexually harassing, complete and total bitch.
Publish date:
August 6, 2012
Dating, aaron sorkin, the newsroom

This is my Aaron Sorkin date night look. Self-tanner. Check. Fake eyelashes. Check.

Have you ever tried to explain the evilness of your job in celebrity gossip trafficking to someone who has been the victim of it?

Yeah, I did that once. On a date with Aaron Sorkin. Then he wrote a character based on it. Who looks just like me. And is an evil gossip trafficker.

Here's the headline, aggregators (oh, and be sure to put the picture of my face next to Hope Davis; I know, crazy isn't it?): "FORMER NEW YORK POST WRITER SAYS SHE INSPIRED AARON SORKIN 'NEWSROOM' CHARACTER." Hopefully the Internet pickup will eventually "Telephone"-like-game transform it into: "Starfucker says she once gave Oscar winner a notion" because that would be chillingly accurate.

I was the basis for a character -- an evil version of me, he said -- on Aaron Sorkin's "Newsroom" after we went on a few dates. You can't really call them dates even. One time, when I told him that I recognized he was "Fantasy Camp Husband" potential and that I was essentially propelling the chase, he did write, "Well hang on...I've asked you out on several actual dates (and happily for me you accepted)."

Fine. But you know that book "He's Just Not That Into You"? Yeah, I've read it, too. I get it.

Man, I really hope I am not, like, murdered for writing this -- NOT THAT HE WOULD, I MEAN METAPHORICALLY -- although that didn't happen even when I quit The New York Post which at the time felt very scary. I did it in a -- as I like to say -- "manufactured-controversy" type of hullabaloo, announcing on Twitter I was going to write a "Devil Wears Prada" tell-all. Please. Even this piece. It's G-rated, baby. It is so G.

This is what happens when you ask Aaron Sorkin to send you flowers on your 36th birthday at The New York Post.

I met Sorkin -- who incidentally, and I can't emphasize this enough, I have nothing but the utmost respect for as a writer and a human being -- when I approached him at "The Social Network" after-party at the Harvard Club in 2010. At the party I introduced myself. Sorkin and I had a moment. I dodged and weaved his publicist and eventually slipped him my card. Sorkin emailed me before I had left the party.

Which leads me to the story of the genesis of "The Newsroom" character played by Hope Davis at a gossip rag called "TMI" (initially, he said, he was going to have her be an actual Post reporter). She is -- as Sorkin wrote me -- "Bad Mandy" and "the character you inspired as the opposite of you."

Although gee, come to think of it, revealing completely private conversations I really don't have any right whatsoever to reveal is pretty...wow. Self-fulfilling. I am being Bad Mandy.

The night in question: Aaron was nice enough to pick me up at The Post at 1211 Avenue of the Americas, 47th Street and Sixth Avenue near Radio City -- which was like an enemy territory coup in its own right -- and I had of course run to Saks Fifth Avenue that day to buy an entirely new dress so that I could be A-list ready for my little fantasy fairytale date where I just kind of, you know, ignored the fact that I always suggested things like, let's get actual dinner, or you should send me flowers -- and just enjoyed the ride (very Hannah in "Girls," which is I think sometimes why that show makes me almost nauseous to watch) and he picked me up in front of The Post, stepping out of his chauffeured town car.

"What do you think?" I said, holding my arms up to the Evil Empire.

"I think you look like a million bucks," he said.

At dinner, he asked me what I had done for the day. At the time, I was writing a story about one of the "Real Housewives" on Bravo. And not only that, it was a "takedown piece" as we call them at The Post. Meaning, an almost faux-populist, folksy "we're not gonna take it anymore," very tabloid-y STFU rant for whatever winged creature of the moment has flown too close to the sun.

Today it was Bethenny Frankel.

Poor Bethenny. She had done three recent things that were not so good. And maybe another reporter had an anecdote or something. And you know how journalism works don't you. Three things make a trend. A trend -- or a takedown piece.

There was part of me that was glad to show Sorkin the stomach-twisting grossness of life as a gossip peddler who also happens to be, very inconveniently, not a sadist. There was part of me that was glad he could get a glimpse of how the other half lives -- when the other half is trapped, and needs a fucking paycheck.

"I have to write a takedown piece," I said. He looked at me like I had three heads. He wasn't as well versed in the jargon of personal character assassination.

"A takedown piece?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "You know, a takedown piece. That's what we call them at The Post. That's what we do. It's The Post. It's a formula where you talk about all the things the public is pissed off about. It sucks. I hate it. It's depressing. It's pure negativity. It's just toxic. But it's my job. In fact, I even tried to get out of this one because it's about Bethenny Frankel, one of 'The Real Housewives of New York,' and I like Bethenny and have used her as a source before. But I just can't get out of it."

"So...it's just bitchiness?" he asked, horrified. "What if you suggested five different alternative stories?"

"It's The Post," I said. "Have you ever read The Post?"

Later in the night, I fell into a bad habit I have: offering unwanted advice ever so arrogantly on exactly how I can "help" someone. You know, because I'm just oh so self-actualized. Both my parents are therapists. I've been through a lot of therapy. So you can see where my (very misguided) heart lay.

"Don't try to fix me," he said.

I wrote my story on Bethenny. It comforted me that she is a very smart, very savvy woman and knows exactly how the game is played. Sorkin emailed me later from LA.

Sorkin explains how he got the idea for Bad Mandy.

"I want to remind you about a conversation we had at dinner in New York. I asked you what you were working on and you told me about the take down piece and I got preachy and condescending (so unusual for me) and instead of being insulted, defensive or telling me to go fuck myself, you said that you understood completely but that it was your job. I told you then that while you were talking I had an idea. What if the same thing were to happen to Jeff Daniels -- he's on a date with a Post reporter who tells him he's doing a take down piece, Will tells her what he thinks of that but instead of acting the way you did, she goes off in a huff and starts taking him down with little items in the Post. I'm about to start writing that episode right now and I'm telling you now as I told you then, THIS CHARACTER IS NOT YOU. In fact, in the writer's room, when talking about this story, we call the character 'Bad Mandy' (as opposed to real Mandy) because I haven't named her yet. I thought it was worth re-emphasizing that."

Of course, I was thrilled. Normally, I am very stingy with giving away ideas. As a well-seasoned idea vulture myself, I know exactly how this trick works. Next time that old friend who's now a TV writer calls you just to "catch up and hear some of your crazy stories," tell them absolutely, and you in return would love some of their crazy paycheck. See how that goes down. But this was different. This was Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin says something typically charming and amazing.

So when I finally watched episode 4 of "The Newsroom," called "I'll Try to Fix You," and gossip columnist Nina Howard (played by Hope Davis) throws herself at Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) and tells him bitterly, "You just passed up a sure thing," and Will later complains, "I was the victim of an unwanted sexual advance," oh my God, I felt like such a fucking asshole.

I will tell you that I fully cried, totally humiliated at the wreckage of what happens when you are a scheming little manipulating starfucker such as myself. Maybe it bothered me so much because I realized how close to the character I really was.

Where I get into trouble -- where I got into trouble -- is when I am a big gnarly faker. I get rewarded for it, obviously. I get raises. And dates. With powerful men. But it's gross. I am a gross person who is fake when I am fake.

Reading back through my emails to write this piece my stomach did a triple cramp reading through what a preening sycophant I can be when it comes to powerful men I am trying to seduce. In business and in personal relationships.

But oh man, such good stories. Am I right? GOOD STORIES. Know what's great to cuddle with at night? Stories.

Sorkin starts filming the character who is "the opposite" of me.

What hurt the most watching that first episode -- and yes, I realize it is supposed to be "the opposite" of me -- was the close to the bone nailing. Of me. The sexual forthrightness. The heavy flirtation geared toward a very specific brand of money, fame, power and intellect. And my personal codependent quirk: the unasked for advice.

Nina says to Will, seemingly out of the blue, with near-psychotherapeutic Tourette's: "Now you seem lonely and broken to me...But don't worry, I can fix you."

Watching the Bad Mandy/Nina character, it was painful to see her hinting smile, her leaning in movements. Oh, she wanted it, baby. If you watch the show, while the character seems to get progressively more evil, including blackmailing him in the spirit of the Page Six extortion scandal of 2006, Sorkin assured me when I emailed him on Friday, her character makes a surprising change later in the season.

Oh, and full disclosure? So you can see how striving I really am, I emailed Sorkin as recently as like a week ago about working for "The Newsroom." Classy Mandy. In my defense, I had initially asked to meet with him about consulting for the just-announced HBO show. I swear to God. He thought I was asking him on a date. It got more complicated from there.

He has also been supportive about the book I'm writing, the roman a clef about The Post, called "News Whore," and said from the pages I sent him, it was "absolutely fantastic." (A brag, there. Not a humble one. As I tell other women, and I tell myself on the regular: Own your shit. Someone has to.) More recently, Sorkin said of the creative process itself: "You're a very gifted writer with a unique, beautiful and stunning voice. Most of the time it's going to be brutal and demoralizing but when you see the result you won't feel any pain."

He won't like this article.

But, you know. The Internet. Besides, if someone uses me in his writing, doesn't it seem fair that I use him in my own?

Bad Mandy.


Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.