Published August 07, 2006
First Look at New Show by 'West Wing' Creator
I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but award-winning Felicity Huffman is the first guest host of “Studio 60 on Sunset Strip.”
Of course, the show is fictional. It’s the show-within-a-show that forms the basis of Aaron Sorkin’s attempt to put most of the “West Wing” cast into a new series on NBC. The pilot is apparently available to rent on Netflix, so there’s no sense in not saying that I’ve seen it.
The first thing you need to know about “Studio 60” is that Lorne Michaels, the grand pooh-bah of "Saturday Night Live," is not happy about it. NBC has essentially allowed Sorkin to make a show about Michaels’ show. In the pilot, Judd Hirsch plays Michaels having a nervous breakdown on live TV. It’s very “Network,” and in fact, there are many references to that movie once Hirsch blows his lid and is fired. (“Network” featured the famous line “I’m mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.”)
Michaels has no doubt seen this. He was so furious with NBC that he made them take his show, a half-hour comedy called "30 Rock" and written by Tina Fey about … you guessed it, "Saturday Night Live." So we'll have two shows out of the gate next month about another show that is almost never funny or relevant. You can see what’s coming.
Sorkin’s show features Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield from “The West Wing” and adds Matthew Perry and Amanda Peet (who have a career history from their turn in “The Whole Nine Yards”) plus Steven Weber from “Wings,” D.L. Hughley (as Tim Meadows/Tracy Morgan the black comic), Sarah Paulson as the ingénue and Broadway star Donna Murphy as a network executive.
The hour I saw, which you will see very soon, is terribly “inside.” Whitford and Perry are a comic writing team brought in to replace Hirsch after he loses it. Whitford’s character has just failed a drug test and is a mess — he’s Sorkin’s stand-in. Peet is the new wide-eyed head of network programming who is at odds with her boss, Weber, in the first few minutes. I think she’s supposed to be Jamie Tarses, who was at ABC for a minute, possibly when Sorkin had “Sports Night” — starring Huffman — on the air.
Much like “The West Wing,” the characters talk a lot and they talk fast. They say everything as if it has great importance, and it’s all either an epiphany or a revelation. This worked on “The West Wing” because what hung in the balance was the nation, the presidency and democracy. Here, very little is at stake, unless of course you’re an advertiser on “Studio 60.” The show itself is not funny at all, and captures none of the humor of a comedy show. In fact, it’s deadly serious.
So it seems Sorkin has devised a soap opera around a comedy. There’s nothing madcap about it. I was thinking of the great movie “My Favorite Year” while watching the “Studio 60” pilot. That script captured all the buffoonery and bluster of putting on a weekly sketch comedy show. Joe Bologna’s portrayal of a Sid Caesar-like host — the guy who seemed oblivious but was in fact in charge — gave the movie its rudder. Mark Linn-Baker as the wide-eyed intern took the audience on a guided tour of mayhem.
But “Studio 60” looks like it’s going to be about Peet keeping Weber out of the show while Perry and Whitford come up with material every week as they fight their personal demons. Is there enough of this to last a whole season? I just don’t know. It didn’t feel like it when I watched the pilot. It’s hard to care about a bunch of people making a lot of money and fighting among themselves.
And then there’s the problem of the lack of comedy. Since no one on the real “Studio 60” writes comedy, the content of the fictional show is so far unknown. All we do know from the pilot is that Hirsch gets mad because something “controversial” gets cut. (They don’t say what it was.) We do know there’s one bad skit called “Peripheral Man,” but we don’t see it.
What is clear is that Sorkin has studied “Network” and that Paddy Chayefsky’s premise is alive and well in the pilot. Will it evolve into something people will care about? Will Michaels’ show actually be funny and make everyone turn away from this? (One source tells me “30 Rock” is already in trouble. But Fey can be brilliant, so I’d wait and see.)
“Studio 60” looks like a dead end so far, but maybe as the plots and characters grow, the need for actual comedy or anyone even remotely endearing will evaporate, and it will simply be “Dynasty” set at a network studio.
What might have been more interesting is a series called “Good Night, and Good Luck” in which a network news division struggles to balance its Tiffany-like reputation with modern concerns and ethics. But, of course, that’s the reality show called “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,” debuting Sept. 5.
‘Lost’ Star Doesn’t Value Hershey’s Kiss, Etc.
Is "Lost" star Naveen Andrews just crazy, or is he asking for it? He’s been lucky enough to date actress Barbara Hershey — an Oscar nominee, Hollywood star and knock out — yet he’s managed to not only father a child with someone else, but also get caught on camera in the supermarket tabloids making out on the beach with yet another woman. I must be missing something here. Andrews must be spending too much time on the "Lost" island to realize he’s with … Barbara-freaking-Hershey!
And by the way, casting directors, where is Hershey these days? Maybe she should show up on “Lost” and kick up some sand. …
”Scrubs” star Zach Braff says in the new issue of “Premiere” that he’s likely leaving the series that made him famous at the end of this season. Of course, he said the same thing before “Scrubs” got its first Emmy nomination. “Scrubs” is an ensemble show, so it’s likely Braff’s departure can be dealt with. …
Actress Patti D’Arbanville brought three of her four beautiful kids to the premiere of "World Trade Center" on Thursday night. Their dad is former New York fireman Terry Quinn, a consultant on the film. (Her eldest son, Jesse, was from a relationship with Don Johnson.) Patti is one of our faves from the really fun days of rock 'n' roll. Cat Stevens wrote a song for her —“Lady D’Arbanville” — which none other than Sting warbled for her at the “WTC” premiere. Now a semi-regular on FX's “Rescue Me,” she also appears in the upcoming “Perfect Stranger” with Bruce Willis and Halle Berry. ...