Signing off on Studio 60
As I said, we’ve been catching up on our media the last few weeks and last night we finally finished with Studio 60. Deb and I seemed to enjoy it more than most people but boy, did it go off the rails.
Initially, the idea of series set backstage at a weekly show ala Saturday Night Live, sounded like it had potential. The cast was terrific and it certainly had the right guys at the helm – Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme. Sorkin loves television as witnessed by Sports Night and his forthcoming play (starring Hank Azaria) about Philo Farnsworth, the man credited with inventing television.
As with anything Sorkin writes, the series required you to pay attention and was ambitious with flashbacks, flashforwards and intricate relationships and backstory. By mid-season, with anemic ratings, NBC didn’t know what to do with the series and gave it a long break. This proved to be a mistake and it lost even more audience so the final six episodes were held until after the official season ended and they were burned off in late May through June.
Now that we’ve seen all 22 episodes, I can tell you that with each passing week, the series seemed to be less and less about the backstage life at a weekly show ala Saturday Night Live, and more about these characters and their wretched lives. No one was happy. Any tiny moment of joy was set against pain and suffering.
Also, by giving Steven Webber the role of the network president, it meant they needed to use him regularly so he had far more day-to-day contact with this one show than reality would suggest. Or, his storylines were divorced from Studio 60 so he had to deal with larger issues that didn’t resonate with anyone. Like Ed Asner’s chairman of the board, he should have been a recurring character used as necessary when storylines demanded going further up the chain of command. After all, the show had to deal with Jordan McDeere, the president of programming which made more sense for the needs of the series.
We also got too involved with the Matt Albie/Harriet Hayes romance that didn’t serve the rest of the cast terribly well. Although, seeing it in comparison with the Danny Tripp/Jordan McDeere relationship proved more interesting than expected.
These last six episodes totally veered off course and way too much into West Wing territory so I can see why NBC gave up. Sorkin and Schlamme seemed not to know what to do with a series set backstage at a weekly show ala Saturday Night Live so told different stories, especially the rushed ale of Tom Jeeter’s brother, the soldier, who was kidnapped in the Middle East. On the one hand, in real time, it was over way too quick and wrapped way too neatly, and on the other hand it felt interminable.
The same with Jordan’s delivery issues which kept an engaging character off screen for two episodes and barely in the final one.
D.L. Hughley didn’t have much to do over the course of the season and the rest of the on air cast and backstage crew was largely a group of people with unrealized potential. Timothy Busfield, who I’ll watch in most anything, started off as the conscience to Matt and Danny and then segued into the comic relief and was either ill served or badly used.
It could have been great and maybe if it got a second season it would have found itself. Sorkin and company made a slick, entertaining show but it stumbled badly and never found its footing while being expensive to produce so a second season never made sense.
Pity. It could have been something cool. And as with Sports Night and West Wing there was nothing else like it on prime time and that in itself deserved our support. I wonder how the networks will react to the next ambitious drama about something unfamiliar.