Monday, February 21, 2011

Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip Revisited

Just after Christmas, I was able to pick up the complete series of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip on DVD, because I had remembered I enjoyed the opening episodes of the series and the price was right.

Given that I've seen a few more things and I would be coming back to the series with a fresh perspective, and seeing as Sorkin is nominated for an Oscar for The Social Network, it seems like a timely revisit as well.

A lot of people, including Aaron Sorkin claimed that it didn't matter that the show within the show, the actual Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, wasn't funny, when the whole crux of the larger series, aside from the foibles of the various cast and crew intersecting in seemingly interesting ways, was that Danny Tripp and Matt Albie were brought back to restore the show within the show to both relevance and make it once again a bastion of cutting edge humor. When I first watched the series, I was on Sorkin's side on this, but in retrospect, I have to join the detractors. If you were watching a show where experts were called in to deal with a situation, they have to be demonstrated to be really good at that task.

If you were watching a show where there was an ex-cop who got called into by a connection at his old precinct to deal with cases that were too messy for the by the book police and he was shown to be not capable of doing that very thing, you wouldn't watch that show, even if the narrative conceit of the show was designed to accommodate a family drama base as well.

Speaking of which, how anyone, the characters or Aaron Sorkin/Thomas Schlamme, thought that The Cold Open would work for a modern sketch comedy show.

But the show did go off the rails for me in the very same place as it did when it first aired... after an episode called "B12" because there were a few decisions made in that episode that the rest of the series had to live with and it brought the whole thing down more than a few pegs.

And the complaint that there there was a needless attempt to raise the stakes of every little thing is well warranted... especially since it aired on Mondays, which had 24, which was a series which knew exactly how to do that. Because for the most part, the situations were not life and death on Studio 60, but they were treated as if they were every week.

In retrospect, I can see how given the basic narrative structure of the show it could have worked. It just needed a slightly different setting.

I mean, for those of you who watched this series when it aired, imagine if instead of being about a sketch comedy show, it was instead about a cable program that mocked the local news weeknights, whose previous host had a public sexual harassment suit levied against him and both left the show. In a scramble, the newly installed head of the network hired a former writer and his stand-up comedian writing partner as producer (Whitford) and host (Perry) respectively. The new host had faced some controversy from a previous show he had emceed because of satirical jokes he had made after 9/11. This makes the head of the corporation very nervous and there is a lot of antagonism between the two sides.

Of course, there is also a bit of tension as Perry's Albie's ex-girlfriend works on the show as a fake correspondent, and her strong religious beliefs conflict with his atheism.

With these two men in charge, the show changes direction and starts aiming its sights on cable news and politics, and becomes a massive hit for the network, allowing them to push against the established norms of the news cycle and political world.

I mean, think about this... Aaron Sorkin loves writing about politics and coming up with little quips about it, and since he did Sports Night, he has experience writing about a similar setup to The Daily Show/Politically Incorrect/Real Time setup, so it would have been win/win for him.

Of course, with the failure of the show, Simon Helberg was available to play Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory, so maybe things worked out for the best.

1 comment:

vivi said...

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