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Television: Studio 60, Heroes
Tuesday, 2006 September 26 - 9:06 pm
Thoughts on NBC's two new Monday night shows. (Warning: minor plot spoilers.)

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

This is Aaron Sorkin's latest creation. I don't want to say NBC was desperate for a new hit, but they bid a lot of money against CBS to land this show. They also gave Sorkin a lot of freedom: he was largely given a free hand with the show themes, the cast, and even the time slot.

The premise of the show is that a television network ("NBS") hires back former two writers for a late-night variety show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", as the show's producers. (There's little subtlety to the fact that this is a satire about NBC and "Saturday Night Live".) The producers are Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford).

The fictional "Studio 60" faces a crisis when its former producer, Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch) goes on-air with a live tirade against the death of creativity and risk-taking on the show and the network. (Think Sorkin was trying to make a point here?) Part of the tirade is in reference to the fact that the show would pull controversial sketches like "Crazy Christians", in favor of pablum like "Peripheral Vision Man". Gee, does anyone remember the SNL sketch series "The Man with No Depth Perception"? Or "Middle Aged Man"? Like I said, the SNL parody is not very subtle.

To appreciate the show, though, you have to look beneath the surface of the obvious analogies. The first episode, where NBS executives convince Matt and Danny to return to the show, has parallels to NBC's efforts to bring Sorkin's show onto the network. If you didn't know some of the back story about Sorkin, you might not get that right away.

The second episode is about the first "Studio 60" production under Matt and Danny, where Danny pledges to produce the "Crazy Christians" sketch that had been pulled earlier. This raises the ire of the conservative Christian community, and several NBS affiliates refuse to air the show. The clever part in this episode is that we never see the fictional "Crazy Christians" sketch... and we don't need to, because the whole episode is the sketch. It's designed to poke fun at groups like the AFA and their drives to boycott shows that they deem unsuitable. It's subtle and smart.

Oh, and if you've seen the movie "Network", you'll see a lot of parallels there too.

Javi wondered if the show wouldn't be appreciated by Hollywood outsiders, but I don't think that's true. While some of the insider references are probably more meaningful to people who work in television, or who at least follow the back stories, there's a lot to like about the show for those who are looking for something intellectual and clever. Now, I do wish that we could take more advantage of stellar cast, and get some more funny-ha-ha, laugh-out-loud moments. I mean, you've got a wealth of comic talent on the show, especially Matthew Perry and his impeccable delivery of punch lines. It seems a waste to have all the humor be the "a-ha very clever" kind instead of the "OMG ROFL" kind.

I think the show will bloom once we get past some of the exposition and early character development. There's a ton of potential here, and I think I'm really going to enjoy watching. Thumbs up.

Heroes

The premise of this show is that a group of unrelated ordinary people suddenly discover that they each have unique super powers, and they are drawn together to fight an evil antagonist and save the world. The story has a dramatic comic-book feel to it, which is unsurprising given the contribution of comic book writer Jeph Loeb.

There's an air of suspense to the show, as you see each how each hero discovers and reacts to his/her newfound power. In the initial episode, we don't get a full sense of what everyone's power is, or what they are destined to do. We get some glimpses, though, and that foreshadowing makes us want to find out more. According to previews, the heroes are all connected in some way, and part of something very large and important. We want to see how.

The show has a lot of potential, and as long as it can maintain its mystery (the same way "Lost" does, by answering some questions while raising others), it will be successful. But I guarantee you, if the show devolves into an episodic crime drama, then viewers will depart in droves.

I will say, though, that we absolutely love Hiro (Masi Oka), the Japanese character who has the ability to manipulate time and space. He's worth a whole show unto himself. Oh, by the way, he has a blog.

And, um, it doesn't hurt to have Ali Larter slithering around in her underwear. I'm just sayin'.
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Posted by Ken in: television

Comments

Comment #1 from Crouching Hamster (Guest)
2006 Sep 27 - 11:35 am : #
Aaron Sorkin has managed to corral the top talent in acting, music (W.G. Snuffy Walden), casting, and well, just about everything and get someone to pay him to feed his writerly narcissistic exhibitionist tendencies. Brilliant!

But I was wondering: do television writers show up at press conferences and give statements? Can a 34 year-old woman (that, in and of itself), who says, "thanks for stopping by, guys" to two suits, and, "I was high" (jokingly) at a press conference, be taken seriously as the president of a network? Or are we to continue to suspend disbelief when her character is in a scene, and accept her as Sorkin's wet dream of a network president?

Javi, weigh in here, if you can.

P.S. - I still miss "Sports Night."
Comment #2 from Timothy Ross (Guest)
2006 Sep 27 - 1:21 pm : #
I really enjoyed Studio 60 and I don't follow the television industry.

The extent of my insider information is that I am pretty sure Captain Kirk wasn't his real name.
Comment #3 from Javi (Guest)
2006 Sep 29 - 3:25 am : #
sorkin based amanda peet's character on jamie tarses, who was wunderkind president of abc when he did "sports night" - but obviously, the character is tremendously idealized... and writers do on occasion do press, but the "fate of the world hangs on this" tone seen in the studio 60 episode was probably a little overwrought - but the overall tenor of studio 60 seems to be that running "SNL" is an event as important as running the white house...
Comment #4 from e (Guest)
2006 Sep 29 - 9:42 pm : #
speaking of "sports night", did anyone else really want felicity huffman to have amanda peet's role? someone who could have actually made a believable studio prez?
Comment #5 from Crouching Hamster (Guest)
2006 Oct 1 - 9:39 pm : #
They have to make us want it so, and since it's only television, the way to do that is to make us REALLY care about the characters. But they haven't had time to do that. If we can all hang on a few more episodes (Le Petit Beurre cookies. Ermmmmm. Really! I'm NOT being paid! And they're not mine.), they might be able to pull it off.

Felicity Huffman would have been fanTAStic! She has just the right mixture of anxiety and Anglo _Saxon chutzpah for that character. And she knows how to wear a pencil skirt.
Comment #6 from sweatpantsmom (Guest)
2006 Oct 2 - 12:03 am : #
I LOVE this show, but now you've done it. By using the words "intellectual' and 'clever' to describe it, you've almost guranteed it's demise.

Couldn't you have said it was stupid, with lots of ass?
Comment #7 from Ken (realkato)
2006 Oct 2 - 10:38 am : #
:lol: I do hope the ass quotient goes up in Studio 60.

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