It’s a rhetorical question, I know, but has any TV program in the history of Television been so overly publicized six months prior to its debut than Studio 60? Yeah, I’m looking forward to it, too, but this Wall St Journal headline might be a bit too much:
No! No single show can save any network!! Period!! Well, except for Veronica Mars, that might save the CW . . . OK, that was just plain wishful thinking, which is what this is.
The hype doesn’t really center around the show concept itself: a fictional look at the behind-the-scenes of a TV show, which has been done countless times, going all the way back to at least The Dick Van Dyke Show, and taken to its pinnacle by The Larry Sanders Show. As a matter of fact, show creator Aaron Sorkin has already done this, with his first show, Sports Night.
So the concept isn’t what’s driving the hype — hell, NBC has two of these types of shows on it’s fall schedule. The other, 30 Rock, is driven by Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey, and there were reports that NBC was worried about picking both of them up because they were worried that the audience might confuse the shows or something. That’s silly — the difference is baked right into their names: 30 Rock is obviously 30 minutes long, and therefore a comedy and Studio 60 is obviously 60 minutes long and therefore a drama. Duh.
What’s driving the hype, of course, is the return of Aaron Sorkin to NBC. And why not? His batting average of creating quality programming is 1.000, and his track record of getting people to pay attention to that programming prior to being on the air is infinity plus one. There is already a trailer for Studio 60 out there. And long before Sports Night hit the air, there was a New Yorker profile that was mostly about his problems trying to get the ABC suits onboard with what he was doing with Sports Night. He failed, and it staggered through two seasons of intermittent brilliance.
Which was why people weren’t sure whether or not The West Wing was going to make it at first. After all, who really cared about the behind-the-scenes machinations that goes into choosing a Supreme Court Justice? And hadn’t Schoolhouse Rock already taught us how a bill became a law?
Turns out that a lot of people were curious, and the combination of Sorkins super-smart scripts, delivered at breakneck speed by a cast of amazing, continually pedeconferencing actors made it into a hit. And those actors — especially Alison Janney, Richard Schiff & John Spencer — were so good that they often overshadowed Sorkin’s tendency have them speechify even more than a Star Trek captian. The West Wing swiftly became part of the national cultural dialog, as people debated the merits of the Bartlet Presidency with nearly the same vim and vigor that they discussed Clinton and Bush.
All that’s over now, of course, Sorkin was ran out on a rail because of drug busts and late scripts, and made to serve four years of watching his show decline for about a season-and-a-half, and then rebuild itself as a show about the behind-the-scenes of Presidential campaigns. That last was a stroke, as it allowed the show to set itself up to be a long-running franchise, or end naturally with a new President. To nearly everyone’s relief, they went with the latter, and those of us who stuck around were rewarded with some pretty good television.
Those of us who stuck around. That’s the question: will people watch a show about the behind-the-scenes of a Saturday Night Live-ish show after watching so many shows that are essentially the same type of thing. Even a show written by Aaron Sorkin?
Probably. At least at first. But I’m also guessing that it won’t be a huge hit, or even a cultural phenomenon. And certainly not the greatest thing ever.