Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, on NBC
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The main reason I wanted to check this out is because of writer/executive producer Aaron Sorkin, who previously made one of my favorite shows ever, Sports Night. He also made "The West Wing," of course, but I've never seen that. Anyway, Studio 60 is about the backstage politics of a fictional sketch comedy show (which shares the name of the real series), which is quite similar to Saturday Night Live. The fictitious "Studio 60," of course, airs on a fictitious network called NBS.
This show (the real one) has a pretty good cast. (I'll mention some of the actors here, but some I won't, and that doesn't mean any of them are less worthy of mention. So just check IMDb for the rest, I guess.) Steven Weber plays Jack Rudolph, the chairman of NBS, who recently hired Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) as the president of the network. She's supposed to start work on Monday, but while she's at a party in her honor on the preceding Friday night, something unusual happens while the live sketch show is airing: its creator and executive producer, Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch) interrupted a sketch to rant to the audience about how the show has gone from being cutting edge to basically just sucking, and talked about the reasons why. This being an Aaron Sorkin show, of course his speech was pretty good. It's also the sort of thing that couldn't help but get him fired, and he knew that going in. But he just couldn't take it anymore...
So, Jordan's party is interrupted, and she, and Jack, and pretty much everyone who works for the show, is called to the studio. Jack fires Wes, of course. And Jordan decides she wants to hire Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp as the new executive producers. Matt and Danny are writing partners (and best friends) who were fired from the show about five years ago by Jack (for reasons that won't fully be explained until the series finale). And now Jordan wants to give them a great deal of leeway... for example, airing a potentially controversial sketch (called "Crazy Christians") which had been cut from the show on this fateful night, which was what pretty much triggered Wes's meltdown in the first place. Meanwhile, the director, Cal Shanley (Timothy Busfield), had left the show on the air for 53 seconds of Wes's rant, while Standards and Practices wanted him to take it off, so he was worried he'd be fired... but Danny decided to keep him around. Which is good, because he turns out to be a pretty good character.
The three biggest stars of the sketch show are Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson), Simon Stiles, and Tom Jeter. Harriet is an ex-girlfriend of Matt's, and they're clearly not over each other. But their relationship was and continues to be complicated by the fact that Harry is a devout Christian, and some of her beliefs conflict with those of Matt; not so much because he's Jewish (though not exactly practicing), but more because he's liberal. (And okay, because she's a Christian, and he finds many of her beliefs illogical.) Harry, meanwhile, is fairly liberal herself, for a Christian, or at least moderate, and often seems to get in trouble with proponents of both sides of any issue, each of whom think she's too far on the other side. So, one can't help but feel for her. Certainly, she's one of the show's most interesting and complex characters. Religious issues do seem to crop up fairly often, at least early in the series. But anyway, all the characters are interesting. And all the characters have great dialogue (again, this is an Aaron Sorkin show). And really, I think everyone is very much a mensch.
There are also co-executive producers named Ron and Ricky, who are basically hacks with no talent as writers or anything, but they have a couple years on their contracts, so I guess everyone will have to put up with them for now. And Ed Asner occasionally shows up as Wilson White, the head of TMG, the company that owns NBS. He's a pretty good guy, and seems to support Jordan. As does Jack, despite how upset he often is with the way she runs the network. But he'd like to protect her from the board of directors of TMG, because alot of her decisions seem to be good for art, but bad for business. Plus there are issues that crop up from her past, like a DUI arrest years ago, and a tell-all book her ex-husband is peddling. And there are plenty of other secondary characters, like other members of the sketch show's ensemble and writers. Tom eventually starts dating one of the writers, a British girl named Lucy. Ron and Ricky eventually leave the show. And a new guy named Andy (Mark McKinney) is brought on the staff to help out. There's a lawyer named Mary Tate (Kari Matchett), who is defending the show against a sexual harassment lawsuit, and who becomes a potential love interest for Matt, as well as helping out later with various other matters. There's a stand-up comic named Darius who is hired to be a writer on the show. There's a journalist named Martha O'Dell (Christine Lahti) who's doing a article on the show, and shows up more often than you might expect. Also, Harriet dates a guy named Luke, a movie director who used to be a writer on the show. I'm afraid I'm leaving out a lot of other characters here... There are also various guest hosts and musicians for the sketch show. My favorite was probably Sting, who played a really great version of "Fields of Gold" in the Elizabethan style of his "Songs From the Labyrinth" album (I really wish I could get an mp3 of this version of the song).
Well, anyway. What else to say? There are always great storylines. The show is absolutely brilliant at mixing humor and drama, each of which are done quite brilliantly in their own right. And as I've said, I love all the characters. There's some conflict, particularly between Jack and Jordan and the people who work on the show. A lot of storylines about ratings, which is somewhat ironic considering the real show also started strong, but then slipped and ended up getting (tragically) cancelled after just one season. It's just another example of the American television viewing audience pissing me off by not watching shows I love.... The interesting thing is, people like Jack ultimately turn out to be on the side of the show and the people who work on it. He agrees with them. There's just not alot he can do except try to get them to make more practical decisions, which they generally refuse to. Which I think is right, not compromising their art, but it still sucks that it means... sigh. Whatever.
There are also stories that involve Tom's brother, whom we never see. He's an airman serving in Afghanistan, and there will sometimes be drama involving him, or at least Tom worrying about him, particularly in the last few episodes. And there are always stories about Matt and Harriet's on again, off again relationship (including flashbacks). And there's a storyline about Danny's developing relationship with Jordan. And there are stories about various problems related to the sketch show, on a slightly more technical level. And of course lots of politics. And occasionally there are racial issues, generally involving Simon and/or Darius (who are both black, but they don't exactly see eye to eye). And there's a story about Wilson White working on a deal for TMG in Macao, which leads to our meeting a Chinese businessman named Zhing Tao. We also meet his wife, as well as his daughter Kim, who happens to be a big fan of Tom's. They'll also show up later for other reasons, like a story about potential FCC fines against the network (related to a news broadcast, not Studio 60), or Tom being forced to go on a date with Kim. Well, everything on this show can be rather complicated at times, various storylines weave together in surprising and clever ways....
Well, I can't think of much else to say. Doubtless I'm forgetting things. I love all the show's broad strokes, but also I love the subtle details. The writing and acting are brilliant all around, the drama and the humor. I've said that. And the show seems to have pretty much exactly my mindset on a great many matters. It may alienate a lot of viewers, it may seem superior or condescending or seem to mock or disdain people, but really I think it's pretty fair and reasonable, fairly moderate, it tries to look at all sides of a situation... But if it does take a stand, personally I think it's always right. Even if that does make it unpopular. I suppose I can forgive an audience for not watching a show that tells them they're wrong. But I find it more difficult to forgive that audience for being wrong in the first place. Heh. Anyway, it's funny... six years after 9/11, it brings up old issues, reminds me of old thoughts I had back then, things like how pissed off I can be at Americans taking "patriotism" to fanatical lengths and basically making out anyone who disagrees with them to be unpatriotic or even sympathetic to terrorists. Which is bullshit. But before I get deeper into a rant, I'll shut up.
But again, I was so in love with this show, with its every aspect. It moved me to tears of both joy and sorrow, and it made me laugh, and it made me think, and I can't tell you how much I hate the fact that it was cancelled after just one season. Even if I couldn't have asked for a better finale....