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.

7 comments

  • Bob A

    Once I was a big fan of this show… the characters seemed so engaging and liekable, and the idea had so much potential… I’d like to think it was given a fair shake, but probably not. Would it be so terrible in this day of cable/satellite tv and “reality”-diluted network programming, that someone would have faith enough in a show to guarantee a 24-month exclusive run, never moving it from it’s spot,advertise it and stand behind it’s producers. STUDIO 60 sure could have used it, and so could have FIREFLY and the FLASH. They all were compelling shows with talented writers that never got a chance.

    Bob Ahrens

  • Tom Galloway

    I suspect Jordan’s limited appearance in the last three eps was due to Amanda Peet’s real life pregnancy (which was written into the show).

  • And I’ll counter Bob’s complaint that it wasn’t given a fair shake.

    With Whitford, Perry, Sorkin, and Schlame, it was one of the..if not the…most expensive shows on television. It had huge buzz and marketing behind it. It wound up being paired with the biggest new show of the season…and yet no one watched.

    Flash…a very expensive show that couldn’t hold it’s audience.

    Firefly…a very expensive show that couldn’t hold it’s audience. It’s vogue for Whedonites to say Fox didn’t give it a chance..didn’t promote it…but it ignores the truth. They were running ads for months leading up about From the Creator of Buffy and Angel, a bold new vision of the future etc… And what did they give as a first episode? A train robbery. And before I get the complaint that they didn’t show the pilot movie…how’s that an excuse? This wasn’t Whedon’s first show, and he’d certainly no you need a strong first episode, whether it’s the one you planned or not.

    AS FOR S60…it’s strengths couldn’t overcome it’s weaknesses.

    1) It wasn’t funny. As a drama, that’s not a big deal, except, when they’re showing comedy skits, and the audience is being told they’re hilarious, and they’re not, the whole show rings false….Harriet’s big characters are Holly Hunter and Juliette Lewis? An ongoing Nicholas Cage sketch? The first show back, the big cutting edge opening number is a Gilbert and Sullivan song? Seriously? That’s the best they could do?

    2) Casting. Which one of these is not like the other. Emmy Award Winning Star of the West Wing, 4x Emmy Nominated Star of Friends, Girl who took her top off in a Bruce Willis movie.
    Amanda Peet didn’t once come across as the youngest network head in TV history. She was said in the first episode to be this huge ball buster mover and shaker…Didn’t really seem that way when she was on screen, did it. (and of the 2 choices they had when she became pregnant, to have it on the show or not, I’d say they chose the wrong one).

    3) Matt & Harriet. Bob covered this one.

    4) The cast of S60….these folks had been on the show for years. That’s not a sign of them being the best and brightest of comedic talent. Look at SNL history…it’s not the folks destined for greatness that stay for years and years.

    5) Sorkinisms…this is only applicable to folks who watch Sorkin shows a lot. The Writer’s Block episode of Sport’s Night was cool. When the same story was on West Wing, it was interesting, but because it was with Rob Lowe, not so much…Did we need a series based around the plot? I’m sure if they show had gone a second season, we’d have learned that Matt’s father had had a 20 year affair.

    6) In counterpoint to #1…the show took itself way too seriously. At the end of the day, it’s a show about rich people doing a comedy show. It’s not the West Wing where a decision could change the world. Yet the characters acted like they did. Compare it to the characters on Sport’s Night. Even in the final episode when they think the show is going away, it’s not th end of the world. The heavyness the show tried to apply I think turned off a lot of viewers.

  • KRAD

    The same with Jordan’s delivery issues which kept an engaging character off screen for two episodes and barely in the final one.

    That’s hardly Sorkin and Schlamme’s fault, as they had to, as Tom G. pointed out, work around Amanda Peet’s actual pregnancy and delivery.

  • BOB A

    I agree ,KRAD, no you can’t fault the cast. If anything , they didn’t have enought to do , like D.L. Hughley.

    Scavenger, I see your point, yet I will still hold to the belief the series concept was bold , even if it lacked in execution, and it still kept me entertained more than all of today’s “reality” shows put together. The only one of those shows that I’d be interested in would be Simon Cowell and Don Trump are locked in a room with a couple of baseball bats.
    I’d pay real money for that.

    Bob Ahrens

  • Paul B

    I don’t know that I buy the idea that the folks on SNL who are “destined for greatness” don’t stay for years and years. Phil Hartman was on for nine years and followed his SNL stint with a major role on a sitcom before his tragic murder in 1998. If he were alive today, I doubt we’d be wondering what ever happened to him.

    After watching the Studio 60 finale, I found myself wondering how differently the plotlines would have gone if the cancellation hadn’t been a foregone conclusion at the time the episode was in production. If there had been a chance of the show continuing, I’m thinking Tom’s brother would have been killed, D.L. Hughley’s character would still have been butting heads with Steven Weber’s (can’t remember the characters’ names at the moment), Matt and Harriet wouldn’t have reconciled and, just maybe, Jordan would have died.

  • Sports Night was great. Studio 60, which I followed for the first six or seven weeks, seemed like some odd mish-mash of that show and The West Wing. There were times when I really wanted to scream “ENOUGH WITH THE POLITICAL CRAP!”