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TV Preview: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

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Tonight NBC tries to get itself back in the game. The new television season is upon us, and the network could really use a hit show. NBC has gone back to the well that brought them The West Wing with Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme coming back to the network. This time though, rather than looking at Washington, they’re going to a place that makes Washington politics look positively clean by comparison: television. 

Tonight, NBC premieres Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It’s a show about a show. Really, it’s a show about a Saturday Night Live-type variety show, except rather than taking place in New York, the variety show is done in L.A. Of course, NBC has another show about a Saturday Night Live-type show too, this one by an SNL alum, Tina Fey’s 30 Rock. I don’t care what NBC says, avoiding any discussion of quality, longevity, the audience’s interest level, acting, writing, etc., etc., it just seems completely weird to run two new shows about the inner-workings of a television variety show on the same network. But, as 30 Rock does not premiere for another few weeks, that is a discussion for another time. 

As for Studio 60… it’s funny, it’s serious, and it’s really good. It’s not great, but it’s really good. The moments at the end of each act of the show are really well executed. Going into virtually every commercial break something truly compelling or outstanding occurred, something that absolutely made you want to see what would happen when the show came back (and let’s face it, staying tuned through the commercials is the whole point).

Sorkin went out and got an absolutely fantastic cast for the show, and in the pilot they live up to expectations. Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry standing there side-by-side just seem right. The two play off of each other exceedingly well and are incredibly comfortable with one another. In fact, seeing the two of them together in a show, it’s actually difficult to remember that this is their first season appearing like this on screen. They make a completely wonderful pair. 

However rosy things may look for Whitford and Perry though, their characters in Studio 60 (Danny Trip and Matt Albie, respectively) have a huge task ahead of them. They are returning to a show they left years before, except now the show is in desperate need to be saved. Amanda Peet, playing a newly hired network honcho, brings them back to the show on her first day on the job (technically before her first day, but it certainly is her first act). She is forced to make a change after the old executive producer (played superbly by Judd Hirsch in what will hopefully be a recurring role) goes on-air and bashes television, his network, and his show. 

Respected directors and producers always seem to be able to get good actors to go with them, and Aaron Sorkin has definitely gotten a great ensemble here. Among the others, the show also stars Steven Weber, D.L. Hughley, and Timothy Busfield. Each of these actors seems to be at the top of their game (as does everyone else that appears).

The show definitely has the feel of something made by Aaron Sorkin: quick, witty banter interspersed with speechifying that while being preachy doesn’t detract from the show. And even for it having a familiar Aaron Sorkin feel to it, it still seems fresh and new and different and altogether wonderful. 

I’m excited for it. I’m just so very excited. It might not be of West Wing caliber yet, but it can definitely get there and after watching the first episode not only would I not be surprised if it did, I’m pulling for it. It’s definitely going to be worth the ride, I just hope that it gets enough people onboard. 

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip premieres September 18 at 10pm on NBC.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    My local paper is touting this as the best new show of the current crop of newbies.

  • TV & FG

    I’m reserving judgment about it’s being “the best,” but it’s really very good (the one with that other guy from “Wings” may be better).

  • http://www.earsucker.com Roberta

    I like Matthew Perry, he’s a good actor. I hope this is better than Friends.

  • Bob Jones

    Seen the screener, and it is way too serious.
    I don’t have time to care about characters who work on a fictional comedy show … next time find some real drama.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/tinkie101 tink

    Sorkin does seem to have incredible luck in the actors he gets involved in his projects. Have this one already programed in the DVR and after reading this, I’m even more eager!!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Watching it right now and I think it has the potential to be great. Very smart writing and the actors all go above and beyond…I’m rooting for it too.

    -Glen

  • http://dracutweblog.blogspot.com Mary K. Williams

    I thought it was great. It’s nice to see people like Steve Weber, Judd Hirsch, and Mathew Perry and Amanda Peet play against type.

    I’d love to see Judd Hirsch’s speech rebroadcast at odd intervals on every network. Ha! (Ok a girl can dream, can’t she?)

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    I’ll echo #4: way too serious and I’ll throw in my own opinion: boring. Turned it off after 30 minutes.

  • SC

    Through watching West Wing, I became a huge fan of Sorkin and Schlamme. WW was, in my opinion, the finest ever TV drama – but they had so much material to work with. (national and global politics etc.) Can the subject of network TV sustain as much interest? I don’t think so. I fear that the hype around this show will be its undoing. Studio 60 (the show within the show) also professes to “save network tv.” That isn’t a felt need of the public right now and it seems to me to be an arrogant premise on Sorkin’s part. Still, I can’t argue with a great ensemble cast. (Matt Perry had two episodes in WW and he was excellent in both.) and I wish it well in spite of my doubts about long term success.

  • http://alterthoughts.blogspot.com frank

    Great show. It was quick and funny. The whole cast was entirely likeable and it wasn’t too serious. The story certainly was made me want to keep watching.

  • JC

    The best pilot I’ve seen in years! I’m looking forward to the show and getting to know the diverse characters. A wonderful and talented ensemble cast. This is the next big hit if the viewers and network give it a chance.

  • KC

    Matthew Perry and Brad Whitford HAVE worked together before on Seasons 4 and 5 of the West Wing, so it’s not too much of a shock that they work well together…

  • TRM90

    This is another yawn of a show that tries to appear “edgy” by bashing Christians and conservatives. If the writers really want to show their courage, why not have a sketch called, “Crazy Muslims”. No, the writers don’t have the backbone for that kind hostility.

    Pretty sad to expend so much energy alienating such a large portion of the potential viewing audience. I don’t need to spend my free time being told that I and other church-goers are a bunch of psychos for believing in something bigger than ourselves. There are much better options on TV. I’ll be tuning into to them over Studio 60 and inviting my friends and family to do the same.

  • http://tvandfilmguy.blogspot.com/ TV and Film Guy

    I’m really not of the opinion that the show is in any way trying to appear “edgy.” Beyond that, to this point we’ve not actually seen the sketch, so I think it’s inappropriate to comment on its particulars. Though I doubt this, maybe the title of the sketch is purely ironic.

    Beyond that, I don’t quite understand why, even if the title is not ironic, it would alienate people. They told at least one Jewish joke on the show this past week. Should all Jewish people stop watching? It also made fun of people that wear jeans and t-shirts to work and generally dress like they’re “in middle school.” Should people that dress that way stop watching?

    Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, the show in no way takes a stance on the content of the sketch. The show merely argues that the sketch should be allowed to be aired and that in the current climate of television the networks would balk.

    The show is arguing for freedom of speech. How is that “edgy?”

  • http://reverberatingdream.blogspot.com The Marquise

    Okay, I’ve giving it a trial run. I’ve like what I’ve seen, but admittedly I also have some reservations.

    While I really like Bradley Whitfield, I would give a small appendige up if he could be allowed to be cast in/played something other than Josh from “WW”. True, a fantastic character, but I had hopes that he’d get to be an asshole this go around…and he’d certainly be in character in doing so.

    Matthew Perry continues to pleasantly surprise. I’m not thinking of “Chandler” of Friends at all, and since I got extremely bored with Friends early on, that’s saying something.

    Unfortunately, Amanda Peet and Stephen Weber’s characters seem two-dimensional at best. I can predict what they’re going to say before they say it…and I expect more from Sorkin & company than that.

    Timothy Busfield is not being utilized at all as far as I can see, and that’s a damn shame. He was so wonderful in “WW” and (showing my age here) “Thirtysomething”.

    And I don’t know how it should happen, but D.L. Hughley and Judd Hirsch have got to get more screentime. The two most potentially ‘wide open’ characters to work with, and we’ve only seen them in cameos. Both can deliver…and should be given the chance to.

    At the risk though of upsetting the “WW” folks, though, I would disagree that “60” should be trying to reach “WW” levels. A high standard to be sure, but this producing and writing team has done better: it was called “Sports Night” back on ABC and it was stunningly good, yet horribly underappreciated. Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman…and it was a behind the scenes look of an ESPN-like sports show. ABC didn’t know what to do with it, and…God forbid…even added a laugh track at times so we’d all known when to laugh. “60” should not aspire to “WW” standards, but instead go higher to the more cohesive and biting “Sports Night” level.

  • http://tvandfilmguy.blogspot.com/ TV and Film Guy

    On the upside, ABC did give Sports Night two seasons to attempt to pick up its ratings and did eventually kill the laugh track.

    I’m not sure that Whitford won’t have to become an asshole in the future. Remember, they said at the end of last week’s episode that everything is about to take a downward turn.

    As for Peet & Weber, they may be one-note, but that one-note is pitch-perfect. The sad thing is that Judd Hirsch isn’t a cast member for the show. That was simply a special appearance, and one that will hopefully recur.