About TV: A Farm Boy (Farnsworth) and a Mogul (Sarnoff), and How They Changed the World

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

With billionaire parents now producing bar mitzvah celebrations and sweet-16 parties as if they were major motion pictures, it’s only a matter of time before this spare-no-expense approach is applied to their kids’ school projects. Imagine that Mr. Hedge Fund, with money to burn and many favors to call in, imports a crack combination of writer, director and actors to put across Junior’s oral report with envy-making, A-worthy flair.

The resulting effort might well be something like “The Farnsworth Invention,” the new play by Aaron Sorkin that had its strike-delayed opening last night at the Music Box Theater. This information-crammed, surface-skimming biodrama about the creators of television suggests nothing so much as a classroom presentation on a seven-figure budget.

The show certainly deserves high marks for all those traits that exacting schoolteachers hold dear: conciseness, legibility, correct use of topic sentences, evidence in defense of two sides of an argument and colorful examples to support the main thesis.

Such virtues are given efficient life onstage by a team that includes Des McAnuff, a director known for melding slickness and liveliness (“The Who’s Tommy,” “Big River”), and two appealing stars who hold your attention even when the subject is cathode-ray tubes: Hank Azaria and Jimmi Simpson. Then there’s Mr. Sorkin, who knows from television, having become famous as the originator of the celebrated White House series “The West Wing.” (He is also the author of the pot-boiling military play and movie “A Few Good Men.”)...
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