Monday, June 11, 2007

Studio 60: No Hard Feelings

I have trouble describing how excited I was for Aaron Sorkin’s triumphant return to television last season. I scoured the internet for every Studio 60-related piece of information, and was actually in the audience when Bradley Whitford all-but-confirmed his decision to play Danny Tripp. It was a beautiful eight months.

And it was a beautiful three weeks, I’d say, of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip joy.

Those first few episodes were everything I had missed about Aaron Sorkin since his departure from The West Wing. The wit, those little throwaway lines, the walk-and-talks, my God. I bought into it so hard.

Studio 60 didn’t live up to NBC’s expectations. Extremely expensive, extremely over-hyped, and stuck in an unfortunate timeslot, the return of the Sorkin/Schlamme dream-team was a little less than dreamy.

So, they reworked it. Sorkin was, according to rumor, forced to turn his backstage drama into a romantic comedy, something that Sorkin has never been very good at. One need only look at Dana Whitaker, Mallory O’Brien, or the constantly-woebegone Donnatella Moss to recognize that one of Sorkin’s only weaknesses is in writing romance.

And, God, the Danny/Jordan thing was just so ridiculous. I never thought that Bradley Whitford — my beloved Josh Lyman — could come across as sick and creepy, yet somehow he did. And she was so pathetic, and so poorly played by Amanda Peet, that I was never able to find sympathy for her.

And then everything had to be political.

Sure, Sports Night on occasion drifted into current events. Dan (Rydell, not Concanon nor Tripp, mind you) had his little speech about drugs, and there was that time where there was that riot and Natalie freaked out, and I guess you could count that one time Dana went to church, but still…

Aaron Sorkin used Studio 60 as his private political soapbox, something that works well when you’re writing a show about the President, and a little less when you’re writing a show about comedy. Why-oh-why would anyone tune into Studio 60 for its pithy commentary on the war in Iraq?

I am still watching these last few throwaway episodes. I like to yell at the TV. I like to giggle about things I recognize from West Wing. I like to change my away message on AIM thirty-five times during one episode to keep up with the meta references involved in Allison Janney’s guest-host gig. (Like, isn’t it weird for “Cal” to reference Allison Janney being on The West Wing, since, um, I’m pretty sure this “Cal” fellow looks an awful lot like CJ’s babydaddy?) I’ll also watch anything that mentions Jenna Fischer.

I also like to attempt in my mind to reconcile West Wing’s “Memorial Day” with these recent hospital episodes of Studio 60. When Danny leans over Jordan’s bed and asks her to marry him and says he wants her to be his family and he wants her baby to be his daughter, I try to picture that scene where Donna is all sickly and embolism-y and Josh is at her bedside being all precious and flower-bringing.

I’m just waiting for somebody to make a video combining the two. I will enjoy that with glee. Please send me a link if you come across such brilliance before I do.

Someone at Television Without Pity suggested that Studio 60 would have been better if it had been set at a news program, not a late-night sketch comedy show. I really like this idea. I think it would have been a much better setting, given what Studio 60 eventually turned into. It would’ve allowed Sorkin to keep all of the great elements and get rid of the awkward superfluity. You could’ve still had the Matt-Harriet dynamic, the unfortunate network relationship, the current events, only it would have actually made sense.

You also would have needed fewer characters, probably, more similar to the Sports Night cast than the freakin’ shitshow that is the Studio 60 cast.

What it ultimately came down to, I’m sure, was money. After spending an insane amount of money on the pilot and on promoting the pilot, NBC was of course disappointed when Studio 60 didn’t deliver. That said, the show never had the potential to draw in the crowd it was marketed to. Like West Wing, it primarily appealed to a wealthy, high-brow crowd—a small minority of people who buy a lot of stuff, and who buy stuff like Macs and cars and use American Express Platinums.

However, West Wing was one set (with the most expensive part already done) and a few trips to Washington a year, plus a cast of relative unknowns, save Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe. Studio 60 was a huge financial undertaking from the beginning, thanks to high-profile cast members like Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet.

Eventually, it just wasn’t a good fiscal match for NBC. Perhaps if the show had been on a different network, or on NBC a few years ago, it would have had more success. I think Sports Night would be incredibly successful in today’s market, that it was a super-smart show ahead of its time.

I am disappointed that Studio 60 didn’t make it, because I really do love Aaron Sorkin’s writing, and I really do love Bradley Whitford’s adorable face. Seriously, I’m gonna die this week when that baby comes and I get to see him hold her. Somebody better figure out how to Photoshop Janel Moloney into that picture for reals.

I predicted at the beginning of the season that it would become more profitable for celebrities and musicians on promotion-patrol to “guest-host” Studio 60 than it would be for them to go on actual Saturday Night Live. And that was a bad call. But it would’ve been nice.

Until next time, Aaron Sorkin. I still want to have your babies.

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