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TV Review: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

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A few years ago, network television reached a low point. Cable had overtaken America's television preference for the first time. Many of the top watched shows, such as Friends and Frasier, were ending their runs. The Internet, video games, and DVDs started to take a further slice out of America's TV viewing habits.

Then something happened. ABC, which was the lowest rated network at the time, took a chance with two new dramas. Lost and Desperate Housewives represented something new and daring for network television at the time. Lost played like a feature film and instantly became a critical and crowd favorite. Desperate Housewives, with its sometimes dark and racy content, showed America that network television could be as provocative and innovative as their cable brethren.

Around this time however, NBC, the undisputed ratings champ for most of the 90’s, was falling in the ratings. The network knew that it had to get on the bandwagon soon. After taking risks with such shows as My Name Is Earl, and The Office with modest returns, NBC is now trying to beef up its dramas. The network knows it can't live on Law And Order spin-offs for long, and it, too, wanted a critical and hopefully Emmy-winning drama to add to its collection.

In comes Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. This Aaron Sorkin-produced show tries from the beginning to be unlike any other network series. The TV show plays more like a movie, drawing heavily on film noir of the 40’s and 50’s. NBC also went for big name talent for this show.

West Wing star Bradley Witford joins Matthew Perry, D.L. Hughley, Amanda Peet, and the underrated Stephen Weber for the comedy. NBC has so much faith in this show that they are previewing it almost a month before its scheduled premiere.

Within the first 15 minutes of Studio 60, the writers bash Saturday Night Live, Fear Factor, the FCC, and NBC parent company, General Electric in an opening montage that's almost too much like Howard Beale's rant in the Academy Award winning movie Network.

The disagreement centers around a sketch that blasts the Christian right, which was pulled moments before airing because the network was scared it would be too offensive. Since it is live television, the control room operator (played by Timothy Busfield) has the right to pull the plug, but doesn’t, much to the chagrin of the network censor.

Across town, Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) is being held as the new director of the fictional NBS Network, on which Studio 60 airs. Instead of going the network line, however, Jordan rehires Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford), two disgraced former writers that have had drug problems, to beef up the quality of Studio 60's programming. Albie, in turn, says the same sketch was one of the reasons that he left Studio 60 originally. The pilot ends with Albie and Tripp being introduced as the new heads of the show.

The actual Studio 60 show is essentially a blatant ripoff of Saturday Night Live, if you didn't know that already. Studio 60 and SNL are both live-sketch variety shows, the difference being that one takes place on Friday Night in LA, and the other takes place….well, you know.

Rumor has it that Lorne Michaels was so incensed at the similarities that he insisted NBC greenlight his Tina Fey comedy, 30 Rock, giving the network two shows that take place behind fictional sketch comedy shows that film in front of live studio audiences on Friday nights. Get that?

I wanted to add Studio 60 to my "must watch" list for the Fall Season. The show would've joined the ranks of such shows as Lost, The Wire, and 24. However, after watching the Studio 60 premiere, I felt empty and confused.

The season premiere wasn't bad, but I wasn't blown away. It almost seems like they wrote and shot the episode to be more epic then it really is and wanted the Network-esque intro to be on the lips of every office worker at the water cooler the next morning. NBC wants the show to win an Emmy out of the box, but that high-minded thinking produced a somewhat empty script and characters you can really care less about.

The only saving grace so far is Matthew Perry. I never thought much of him on Friends, but the dude has surprisingly good acting skills and comedic timing. Amanda Peet plays a TV executive who tries not to be a bitch like most women in power are portrayed on TV. D.L.Hughley's role hasn't really materialized yet, so now he's just the black guy until they find something for him to do. Same goes for Timothy Busfield, minus the black guy thing of course.

Only time will tell if NBC has a hit on its hands. I'm not going to give up on Studio 60 yet, but the next few episodes will have to do a lot of convincing to win me over.

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  • Cynthia

    When I saw Judd Hirsch at the opening of “Studio 60,” I thought to myself, “Hallelujiah! Finally, a brilliant, intense actor returns to television!” But no…within minutes, he’s gone. After that, the whole thing just began to roll downhill. By the halfway point, I had lost any interest in the show and its characters. I like Matthew Perry enormously, but aside from Timothy Busfield, no one in this pile of confusing scenarios has a personality I want to follow. Bottom line: it looks like Aaron Sorkin wanted to recreate the quirky feel and humor of the late, great “SportsNight,” but in the pilot of “Studio 60,” he fails miserably.

  • Cynthia

    When I saw Judd Hirsch at the opening of “Studio 60,” I thought to myself, “Hallelujiah! Finally, a brilliant, intense actor returns to television!” But no…within minutes, he’s gone. After that, the whole thing just began to roll downhill. By the halfway point, I had lost any interest in the show and its characters. I like Matthew Perry enormously, but aside from Timothy Busfield, no one else in this pile of confusing scenarios has a personality I want to follow. Bottom line: it looks like Aaron Sorkin wanted to recreate the quirky feel and humor of the late, great “SportsNight,” but in the pilot of “Studio 60,” he fails miserably.