Network television programming executives must loathe smart, engaged viewers like me.
It’s cool. I despise them, too. Believe me, I’m no player hater. I’m just an irritable, college-educated guy who understands TV execs have a thankless job – one where demographics and tea leaf readings portend what shows will be picked up for every new season, where they will go in the schedule, and how best to gratify both audiences and advertisers alike.
For all involved, it’s a recipe for acid reflux meds at best and antidepressants at worst.
Yet knowing all of these factors, one can’t help but think that lowest common denominator results are aimed at the people who need help deciding which laundry detergent will get their shirts white enough… not at people who truly love to suspend their disbelief to be entertained, as they say.
So what’s got a viewer like me so hot? A bastard stepchild ensemble dramedy called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which, it appears, has finally gotten the axe at NBC that’s been threatened it for months now. I’m sure the "networkies" have got some old Fear Factor reruns to plug in there somewh… er, well, it seems it’s already been replaced by a midseason toss-off called The Black Donnellys. Sorry? The what who?
Everyone from Entertainment Weekly to Salon and Entertainment Tonight has been sounding the Studio 60 death knell recently. A bigger question raised from this rabble should be, "What happened to the gutsy network that took a chance on Sorkin’s rapid-fire political drama The West Wing and oddball comedies like Seinfeld and even the vapid Night Court?" Teams in last place aren’t known for guts, I suppose. Getting by, maybe… but you almost never see the 40-yard pass out of them.
Described as too “inside” and “self-important,” this great Aaron Sorkin vehicle never really had a chance, mainly because it was too smart for its time slot. The perpetually fourth-place-and-panicky NBC wussed out of anchoring their “Must See TV” Thursday revival with it. Instead, the show withered on the Monday night vine… home to football, 24 and Deal Or No Deal. Everyone knows that Monday night is a place where hard-working Joes and Janes get a reprieve from the return to the work week. They don't want clever. They just want their cold MGD or Miller Lite, chips, and idiot box to mentally check out with.
NBC so obviously feared Studio 60 would get destroyed by CBS's CSI and ABC's Grey's Anatomy, that execs there decided a reactionary move to Monday nights at 10 PM might just save the show… before they had really tried it elsewhere. Instead of focusing on the show’s star power – Sorkin and the all-star lineup of Bradley Whitford, ten-year Friend Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Timothy Busfield, Steven Weber – they quivered in fear and settled on a “prevent defense.” How else does this show not sell?
A note to NBC execs: you’re not playing for a first round draft pick.
Like Sorkin’s Sports Night before it, Studio 60 had a great ensemble cast. It was smart, insightful, funny, sophisticated — with great dialogue and complex character development that takes time to absorb. And, perhaps most importantly, it focused on the friendships, inner workings, ethics, and intuitions that television entertainment folk face every day, even as they attempt to produce first-rate programming under steady network bombardment and criticism.
Okay, I digress. Maybe that does make the context and storyline a bit too “inside.” But, like Sports Night, it made for fairly compelling viewing. No wonder it stiffed.
Truth be told, I thought Studio 60 had a better chance than Sports Night when actress and Golden Globe nominee Sarah Paulson was nominated for her role as Harriet Hayes. The air of legitimacy from a Globes win would have carried the show at least another year, giving the Studio 60 writing crew a chance for all of these great stories and subplots they've started in the show to develop. But she was passed over.
Seeing former American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson winning a Globe was a far better read on network television’s (and, more importantly, Hollywood's) barometric pressure these days.
Outside of the success of Heroes and the one-trick pony known as The Office, NBC has decided to commit to the same mindless self-indulgent entertainment – with occasional, pseudo-intellectual decoupages – that the other networks have.
It's called "Throw 'em a bone," which is better than "Let them eat cake." But not much.
This same plague killed NBC’s smart, small town romantic dramedy Ed, starring perpetual comedic bridesmaid and Love Monkey star Tom Cavanaugh. First, NBC hastily messed with the story to jump start ratings, then moved the show to another time slot, and finally wrapped up the show with more reckless abandon than a Britney Spears binge weekend in LA.
At least in death, Studio 60 can say it predicted its own demise both inside and outside of the script. It will be able to keep its dignity and integrity in that regard. NBC, however, has truly lost the plot. Or, to finalize the football metaphor, fumbled again.
As for Sorkin and his work? Both are too smart to waste on a network that thinks more highly of Identity, 1 Vs. 100, The Apprentice, My Name is Earl, and one more insufferable Dateline NBC episode – where pervert predators are caught on tape attempting to solicit Internet chatroom decoys. Note to Sorkin: start shopping Studio 60 to Showtime or HBO. It’s got a better chance on cable anyway.
Just like me.