Farewell, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip


I've decided to stop watching Studio 60. (You probably didn't even know I was watching it, but I thought it was worthwhile outlining the reasons for not watching it.)

Studio 60 was hailed as the most likely great show of this season, with good reason, since it's from Aaron Sorkin, creator of one truly great show (the West Wing) and one near-great (Sportsnight.) Sorkin is deservedly hailed for producing TV that's smart and either amusing or meaningful, and that's what I seek. But I'm not caring about the characters on Studio 60.

I think Sorkin's error was a fundamental conceit -- that the workings of TV production will be as interesting to the audience as they are to the creators. Now I'm actually more interested than most in this, having come from a TV producing family, and with a particular interest in the world of comedy and Saturday Night Live. It's not simply that this was a "Mary Sue" where Sorkin tries to tell us how he would do SNL if he were in charge, since I'm not sure that's what it is.

I fear that he went into the network and said, "Hey! The heroine is the principled network president! The heroes are the show's executive producers!" and the network drank their own kool-aid. How could they resist?

The West Wing tried to really deal with DC issues we actually care about. We went from seeing Bradley Whitford battle to save the education system to battling to avoid ticking off sponsors. How can that not be a letdown? The only way would be if it were a pure comedy.

It's possible to do an entertaining show about TV. Sorkin's own Sportsnight was one, after all. However, you didn't have to care a whit about sports, or sports TV, or TV production to enjoy that show. Those things were the background, not the foreground of Sportsnight. There have been many great comedies about TV and Radio -- Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, SCTV, Home Improvement, Murphy Brown, WKRP etc. However, dramas about TV have rarely worked. The only good one I can think of was Max Headroom, and it was more about a future vision of media than about the TV industry.

Studio 60 is sometimes amusing (though not even as amusing as the West Wing) but surprisingly unfunny. Indeed, the show-within-the-show is also surprisingly unfunny. You would think they could write and present one truly funny sketch a week. SNL has to write over an hour's worth, and while it often does not succeed, there's usually one good sketch. Had he wanted a Mary-Sue story, he would have done this.

So let that be a lesson. TV should stick to making fun of itself, not trying to make itself appear heroic. We're not buying it.


I am in complete agreement. As I watched last evening's ep, I was impressed with Matthew Perry's acting, but with little else. I found that I could care less about these self-absorbed people. The writing on this program is simply not evolving. You've gotta give people more than pretty faces (and, in last night's case, pretty boobs).

I disagree with you about one thing, however: Sports Night was superior to West Wing. West Wing jumped the shark in its fourth or fifth season, when it ran out of causes to wine about. It, too, persisted on the fine ensemble acting. Sports Night was a masterpiece in its brief run: we actually cared about the characters and both writing and acting were strong.

It was an excellent show. I classed the West Wing higher because it managed to deal with real and important issues and be entertaining at the same time. It was of course quite preachy, with the great danger of falling into overlong expository dialog stretches to bring the viewers up to speed, but it actually was able to do it. If we're going to have self-absorbed characters, let them be absorbed in the most important things.

Keep in mind that Sorkin was only associated (OK, wrote every episode) with West Wing through season 4. If you feel the show jumped the shark in season 5, that's not Sorkin's doing or responsibility.

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