Another One Bites the Dust
I’m sitting here, past my bedtime, with tears running down my face because I just watched the final episode of Studio 60. Because it was the FINAL episode, not the season finale but the series finale, the writers were able to provide us with an incredibly touching and totally satisfying conclusion to all the storylines, and happy endings always make me teary. But I’m also crying because I’m so angry, so disappointed that a show as brilliant and intelligent and thought provoking as Studio 60 is now off the air. To me it is shameful that with all the crap that gets renewed year after year, with the vast wasteland that constitutes the majority of my 700 channels, with twelve CSIs and Law and Orders and shows like Pirate Master, 1 vs. 100, The Bachelor and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, that a show smarter than I am, smarter than anyone I know, smarter than any show on TV, gets one lousy year.
Let me tell you about this show that apparently not enough of you watched to make it a money-making venture for a network that hosts such profitable shows as The Real Wedding Crashers, America’s Got Talent, and Deal or No Deal (and no, I’m not an elitist snob; I like Deal or No Deal). This was a show written by the genius Aaron Sorkin, the same guy who brought us the multiple Emmy award winning The West Wing and Sports Night. It was directed by the genius Thomas Schlamme, whose prior credits also include The West Wing and Sports Night; the two have collaborated for ten years. The dialogue, like all Sorkin dialogue was rapid-fire, witty, thought provoking and often hysterical, even in the midst of the crisis, fears, chaos, and doubts of real life.
It started out with tremendous buzz. After all, its stars were Matthew Perry, beloved ex-Friend, and Bradley Whitford, one of the finest actors on The West Wing, and it was a behind-the-scenes look at producing a weekly show called Studio 60, more than loosely based on Saturday Night Live. Admittedly it got off to a somewhat rocky start; many felt that it was too much of an “in joke” or too limited in scope, and others objected to the too-young-and-gorgeous-to-be-believable Amanda Peet playing a network bigwig. But some of its episodes were riveting, and it would have grown if given the chance.
Thematically it tackled a variety of topical and provocative issues, including the war in Iraq, political pressures brought to bear on television networks, drug use by the upper and middle class (based on Sorkin’s own well publicized struggles with drugs) racism, sexism, and the ongoing debate between liberals and conservatives, skeptics and people of faith.
Sorkin is a non-apologetic liberal skeptic. But what I respect about him is that on The West Wing, and even more so on Studio 60, he presented both sides of the story with even-handedness, always providing at least one conservative politician with admirable intentions and inherent decency to balance his own ideology on The West Wing. Then, on Studio 60, Sorkin upped the ante and gave us one of the first sympathetic devout Christians ever to play a main character on a television show; he fashioned the delightfully sexy Harriet Hayes (beautifully played by Sarah Paulson) and made her the most talented comedienne on the lot of Studio 60’s show within a show. The ongoing religious debate—conducted in the clever and fast-paced repartee for which Sorkin is known—between love birds Harriet and the show’s writer, Matt Albee (Matthew Perry) was arguably the best and most honest depiction of the myriad conversations between believers and non-believers, when neither is ever able to convince the other that they’re right, but both can learn to respect each other’s views, and to love each other as human beings. According to my research, Sorkin based this couple on his own brief relationship with Broadway and TV star Kristin Chenowith, herself a Christian. That’s not hard to believe considering how genuinely these “debates” came across.
So I’m saddened by the demise of what was a uniquely well-written, well-directed and well-acted show, one that fell victim to the ubiquitous ratings game, the very game the show took aim at in many of its episodes. In an ideal world, the show would keep turning out new episodes on ONE of those 700 channels. But as Sorkin pointed out often, and as we all know, it’s not an ideal world.
me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com