Dear Aaron -
I know it’s probably too late to save Studio 60.
Aaron, man, that show had potential. I Netflixed the pilot weeks before the fall season began and I thought it was a great pilot with lots of potential. But, as a wise professor once lectured to me in a college sociological linguistics course; “when someone tells you that you got a lot of potential, they’re basically telling you that you got a whole lot of nothing.” The professor paused for emphasis, as he would after saying something important (almost as if to say WRITE THIS DOWN, YOU IDIOTS), then he repeated “You got a whole lot of nothing.” Well, Aaron, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip turned its potential into a whole lot of nothing.
“Buy the premise, buy the bit.” You quoted the maxim - or actually, you misquoted it in one of your episodes. According to your newly arrived, temporary supervising writer, “buy the premise, buy the bit” means that you have to establish the premise early in the sketch. That’s not really it. You do have to establish it, but it’s more than that. You have to believe it. You have to BUY IN to the premise. You gotta believe that there is a world in which these truths you establish really are true.
I’m sorry, Aaron - you’re a great writer and I’m a fan. Loved West Wing. Loved Sports Night. Loved The American President, but I’m afraid there are a bunch of premises in your show that I don’t buy.
PREMISE # 1: The main female cast member of Studio 60 can’t tell a joke.
That premise made sense in My Favorite Year, when the character in question was an assistant, but when the character’s stock in trade is comedy, I think that even if she’s not known for telling jokes, I think she would be able to memorize a joke and repeat it. Not only does this premise bother me, but Aaron, buddy - did you think people wouldn’t realize that Matt used the exact same joke that was used in My Favorite Year to illustrate the point? I know. I know. It was an homage. Right.
PREMISE # 2: Jordan McDeere, the Network President spends most of her time worrying about one late night program.
Maybe if she allowed her VP of Late Night (if she had one) to hang out at Studio 60, she would have kept a closer eye on the Dracula tentpole miniseries that apparently self-destructed. Ever since she got pregnant, she has spent more time eating than programming, and unless she’s planning to outbid NBC for the next cycle of The Biggest Loser, the NBS schedule is doomed to failure.
PREMISE #3: The NBS network seems to have miraculously held out from airing reality shows. They didn’t even have a head of alternative programming until very recently.
I guess that makes sense considering there seems to be an overall shortage of Vice Presidents (unless their late night VP went out for a lunch meeting and was kidnapped by Judd Hirsch’s character and is now being held hostage).
PREMISE #4: Matt Albie and Danny Tripp are either so insensitive or stupid that they schedule a sketch about taking hostages while an actual hostage siege is underway.
Despite the utterance of “there is no way this ends well,” neither Matt or Danny thought the real world crisis should prevent them from running the sketch - until, of course, people were killed. In any real life situation, a good producer would have kept the sketch on hold until the outcome of the real crisis was decided.
PREMISE #5: We are supposed to believe that middle aged people from any place in the United States have never heard of Abbott and Costello and their classic “Who’s on First?” sketch.
I understand that you needed to make this happen for the story, Aaron, but I don’t personally buy it. Sure, I’m one of those New Yorkers who watched Abbott and Costello movies every Sunday morning (after Wonderama, or course), but I’m sure mid-westerners had access to Bud and Lou, too. I mean, they started doing the routine in 1938 and it’s been performed and parodied ever since in all media known to man - and a few that aren’t.
PREMISE #6: Apparently, when a show needs help, you just add a blonde.
It might have worked with Melrose Place, but on Studio 60 it didn’t really make an impact. By my count, three blonde women were added to the cast on three different occasions (the English writer Lucy, the alternative programming chief Hallie Gallaway and most recently, the attorney defending the show in a sexual harassment case). Come to think of it, blondes were also added during the run of The West Wing (Emily Procter, Mary McCormack and Kristin Chenoweth). Now, I have nothing against blondes, but next time, to be fair, why not try throwing a brunette or a redhead at the problem? If it doesn’t work, you can always have them dye their hair.
PREMISE #7: Studio 60, the show within the show, is a funny show.>
This may be the toughest premise to buy - and sadly, one of the more crucial. Here is the problem: the show isn’t that funny. In all of the sketches that we’ve seen, I laughed a grand total of… once (it was the “Dateline Santa Claus” predator sketch, in case you’re wondering). It’s all about cause and effect. If the show isn’t funny, and the show isn’t doing well, then it makes sense, but Studio 60 is supposed to be doing fairly well in the ratings. With that show? I don’t think so. By the way, the show’s apparent success is also one of the main problems of the series - the entire series’ story arc was resolved in a couple of episodes. Episode 1 - Studio 60 the sketch show is in trouble after Judd Hirsch rants on air. Matt and Danny are hired to fix the show. Episode 2 - They fix the show and ratings are strong. Huh? Wouldn’t it have been more interesting for it to have taken… oh, I don’t know… FIVE YEARS to get the show back to its ratings glory? Each year should be a struggle to get renewal from NBS, but we never really heard the word “Cancellation” bandied about the studio.
PREMISE #8: It may take a village to raise a child, but it only takes one guy to write a sketch comedy show.
Early on, it is made clear that Matt Albee writes almost the entire show by himself. Now, I went to the WGA Awards a few weeks ago and watched as no fewer than 25 writers from Saturday Night Live walked up to the stage and accepted their awards. If only Matt Albee was the sole writer of SNL, the Guild would have saved a buttload of cash on award statuettes. Even if we make the leap that Matt writes the show himself, (I guess it’s not that much of a leap considering how lousy the show is), it’s hard to then make a big deal about the writing staff leaving. Yup, that’s right, only a few episodes after Matt makes it clear that he doesn’t need Ricky, Ron or the other writers, he makes a big deal when the writing staff quits. Aaron, it’s hard to have a story point like this mean anything without conflict. Conflict would have been: “I really need these writers. I can’t do without these writers. Oh no! The writers just quit.” It doesn’t really work in this situation: “I don’t need these writers. I write the whole show. Oh No. The writers just quit. Ummm.. So what?”
PREMISE #9: These people have never heard of a rerun.
Okay, I get it. We’re supposed to be worried that several members of the cast are stranded in Nevada with guest star John Goodman. “Oh no! We have a live show in 12 hours!! What’s going to happen???!!!!” If I was the head of NBS late night programming (if they had one), I would have handled that situation like this. “Hello, Danny? Put on a Best of Studio 60 tonight - how about that classic episode from the 80’s with guest host Gary Coleman? That was a really funny one!”
You will notice that for someone with so many issues about this show, I seem to know a lot about it. I never miss it. My wife and I find ourselves yelling at the screen, but we never miss an episode. I guess that’s what matters. Perhaps, the grand irony, Mr. Sorkin, is that if you ever do fix all of the problems with Studio 60, I probably would not watch it as religiously. Now, it’s the show I love to hate. If you fixed it, it might become a show I hate to love.
It is appointment television - I grant you that. However, I also make appointments to go to the dentist - and right now, the dentist makes a lot more sense and doesn’t walk and talk a 360 around the studio for no apparent reason.
What exactly went wrong? I don’t know, but sometimes I feel like I would like to move to the fantasy world in which Studio 60 is meant to take place. I assume that in this world, Matt Santos is happily serving as President of the United States, with his Chief of Staff Josh Lyman at his side. Meanwhile, Josh’s doppelganger, Danny Tripp, is running the venerable Studio 60 television program, a show that has managed to become legendary - no mean feat considering that its sketches are not funny, its running characters barely even limp and two of its female cast members never seem to say a word. In this world, if Studio 60 is a big hit, just imagine what I could do!!
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