The Rise and Fall of Studio 60

19 02 2007

So NBC announced that they would be pulling Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip a week early during the February sweeps, and replacing it with The Black Donnellys, a gritty drama about an Irish mob family. Studio 60 hit an all time ratings low this week, as people tuned out in droves after Heroes to go and do other stuff, or maybe sleep. This is bad news for a show that promised so much in the beginning, but is now delivering almost the same plotline every week.

The ratings have never been stellar, but at the start, despite the criticism from West Wing fans, I thought it was a genuinely interesting show. One thing I couldn’t tell was whether the frequent “insider” industry references about demographics and such would be welcomed by the public at large, or rejected en masse. Sadly it turned out to be the latter.

So the show underwent a slight change of focus, and became two men who were chasing after women. And a black guy who has an argument every week with another black guy, because the first black guy doesn’t think the second black guy is black enough. The argument, which was once sharp, is now as unfocused as my previous sentence. (See Two-fer and Tracy Jordan in 30 Rock for how to handle the race issue correctly, and not leave people of all races more confused than before they turned on the TV).

But the worst thing about this show has become the pomposity with which they deliver their message from the clouds above, as if they have to batter people of average intelligence over the head unitl they get the point. There was scene in a recent episode where Jordan McDeere and Danny Tripp were stuck on the roof of the studio (about 38 mins into episode 12 if you care), which I thought summed up this programs problem in a nutshell. Danny is angry with Jordan, because he used a bit in a promo that has yet to appear in a sketch. Within seconds his argument escalates into this being the reason stupid presidents are elected. You have to see it to believe it. The “Mountains out of Molehills” insurance company wouldn’t cover the staff of Studio 60.

I remember the only episode of The West Wing that I ever saw was the one after 9/11, where Bradley Whitford (Danny Tripp in Studio 60) sat in a cafeteria and explained why people would want to attack America. Nothing he could say in a show written by aaron Sorkin now could top that, not while he is playing a television producer. So Aaron sorkin should stop using him as his battering ram for driving points home.

I think the only chance they have left is to trivialise things a little. Make light of how unimportant TV is in the grand scheme of things, much in the way Jack Donaghy does on 30 Rock every week. I don’t think I have seen an actual sketch or even a rehearsal in about 3 or 4 weeks. and as great an actor Matthew Perry is, he is at his best when he is smiling. So lets have some happy times in Studio 60 people?? Please? Otherwise its lights out for all of you, back to the job centre.

Will The Black Donnellys hold onto more of Heroes audience than Studio 60 ever could? I will be the first to let you know on March 6th. For now I’m off to download it read a book.

Studio 60 should start in the UK at some point on More4, The Black Donnellys will also air on one of 4’s portfolio of channels. So it’s win-win for them I guess. Unless of course, The Black Donnellys manages to do worse than Studio 60 in the same slot. Which just won’t happen…will it?

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2 responses

19 02 2007
Media Guy

Studio 60 has always had its good episodes and its bad episodes. I’ll be the first to admit that there are several points where I thought Sorkin’s writing would be better focused elsewhere (C’mon – are we still talking about the Christian right as some type of enemy? It worked for the first 10 episodes, but now it’s just kind of old). What I will disagree about is your emphasis on the unimportance of TV. I do not watch television. Studio 60 is the only program that I have watched live on television since I was in high school. Why do I not enjoy television? It has become a dumbed-down flashing picture box full of 30-minute anecdotes trying to make us feel better about ourselves. I watched episode 1 of 30 Rock and felt dumber because of it. Studio 60 attacked this by calling it out to the forefront (a character goes on a 2 minute long rant about this in episode 1! How much more obvious could Sorkin get?). For Christ’s sake, the State of the Union Address (during wartime, no less) got lower ratings than Lost did! The general public does not watch TV to learn anything or be challenged intellectually. MTV knew this back in the early 90s with shows like The Real World (leading the way to modern Reality Television).

Because mainstream television is “dumb”, does that mean it is unimportant? In my viewpoint – it makes intellectually challenging television VERY important. While I don’t have statistics, I’d be willing to be that for every one book the average American reads, they watch over 100 hours of “dumb” television (shows like Pimp my Car, As the World Turns, and The King of Queens). Saying that Television is not important to the American identity is saying that Nitrogen is not an important part of air. Sure, we could (in theory) survive without the 78% of air that is nitrogen, but it would be quite a change, and would have more ramifications than we could imagine. I mean – you have a wordpress blog ABOUT television! What would you do if there were suddenly no television, and you had no recollection of television shows you had watched. What would you make small talk about? Who would you turn to to be fed your viewpoint on the war? Television is very important, and producers and executives in the industry know it. I know for a fact that the show is quite tame compared to the ACTUAL backstage happenings at Good Morning America, or even SNL.

Studio 60 was a great show, and I am very sad to see it go. It means that I will no longer be force-fed scantily-clad women trying to sell me the latest in feminine protection, or some random type of beer that I would never drink anyway. Am I a bad person because modern commercials piss me off? No – just a bad American.

21 02 2007
ebarnieh

Thanks for the comment, but i think you misunderstood my point, or maybe I struggled to get it across well enough. I am very concerned about the loss of intelligent TV. It is dotted throughout my blog, I am always trying to promote thought provoking programming, and eschew shows that slide by with a song and a phone vote.

But I believe that the last 5 episodes of Studio 60 have not been very smart. They have been well acted, that sheen is there, production values have been same as ever, but it is just not that clever.

As for your comment about 30 Rock, I thought it started out ok, but by episode 4 or 5 surpassed Studio 60 in terms of writing creativity. check out the episodes that deal with product placement and race for direct comparison with studio 60, and you will see what I mean.

and when I suggested changes, I didn’t mean for the show itself to dumb down, I meant that the characters within the show should stop taking themselves so seriously. tv as a whole is very important, but the show within a show on studio 60 is not.

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