Published May 11, 2007
"Studio 60" is over. Some news services are reporting that the sets have been struck, others are talking about the new dramas NBC has ordered to replace last May's "sure thing."
But this much is known: On Monday, NBC will formally announce the end, thank God, of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."
One of the most expensive hours in TV history, "Studio 60" was a goner even before it hit the airwaves. The ill-conceived drama about a comedy sketch show wasn't funny or tense, it was simply annoying.
The real back story of "Studio 60" is what will remain the legend. Once NBC's Jeff Zucker put Aaron Sorkin's take on the backstage doings of "Saturday Night Live" into motion, the decision caused an uproar.
"SNL" creator Lorne Michaels jumped into the fray and wasn't going to have some pretentious fools on the West Coast muscle in on his territory. He insisted that NBC add his comedy, "30 Rock," to the schedule.
Michaels, of course, got the last laugh; "30 Rock" has been renewed. It's a hit. Alec Baldwin has won awards for his work, while Tina Fey was named one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2007. The show is funny.
Meanwhile, Sorkin and company have cost the network millions that they will never recoup, even on DVD sales that were targeted at weird "West Wing" geeks who tuned in less and less each week.
Matthew Perry, star of "Studio 60," walks away clean and can go back to movies or at least try a real sitcom. Bradley Whitford would do well to get away from Sorkin and find some new people to work with. Amanda Peet was so certain the show would fail, she got pregnant the minute it went on the air. The rest of them, really: Let's not see any of them again too soon.
As for Sorkin, we said this would happen last August when we saw his pilot episode. But to use one of his own quotations against him: He can't handle the truth.
Warner Music, if you don't know, was once run by people like Mo Ostin, Lenny Waronker and Tommy Lipuma. They produced everyone from the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne to James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat, Joni Mitchell, George Benson and so on.
It was a staggering achievement. And that doesn't even include divisions like Atlantic Records or Elektra Records.
Got the picture?
In the two years since Edgar Bronfman Jr. bought the company from Time Warner, Warner Music has been destroyed. It's gone. There's nothing there.
This week, they announced they were firing 400 people, 70 of whom were said to be from the WEA sales force. In the last quarter, WMG says it lost $27 million, compared to $7 million in the same quarter last year. Mind you, three months ago they announced a 75 percent drop in profits.
In the last year, WMG literally had two hits: James Blunt and Gnarls Barkley. That's it. Two. Otherwise, the Bronfman group has added nothing to the company. They have depended on Linkin Park, Michael Buble, Josh Groban, Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — all acts they inherited from the old Warner Music — to get them through.
It's very sad. This week they also announced that instead of developing artists, making hits happen or pretending to be a music company, WMG has hired two guys to make videos. They called them Den of Thieves.
They also hired a guy from JetBlue airlines to maximize the Warner catalog online. While Sony BMG and Universal at least try to release new acts, market them, sell them, get them played on the radio, WMG is giving up.
I'm not surprised, but I feel sorry for the WEA guys who lost their jobs. That's not just 70 people but 70 families.
Last fall, at the WEA sales meeting in Phoenix, the sales force was all ginned up to hear that Warner subsidiary Rhino was releasing a new album by Art Garfunkel, produced by Richard Perry. Garfunkel sang live for them, including "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
But when the album was released in January, nothing happened — it died at birth. No one knows it was even issued.
When Garfunkel performed at Lincoln Center in April, no one from the company even showed up. Actress Scarlett Johansson, who signed a contract with them to record an album of Tom Waits covers, should take heed.
Also last summer: The head of Rhino UK, a man named Nick Stewart, was touting an R&B singer named Keisha White. She was his big thing and the only artist he was interested in.
That was July. On the day her single was supposed to be released two months later, White was dropped without notice from the label. She should have been a hit, but Stewart had lost interest.
Warner Music is full of these stories. They are perplexing. They put millions into Sean Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment, then totally blew the release of his "Press Play" album last fall. It sank without a trace.
Despite Lyor Cohen and his crowd coming to WMG from Island/DefJam, there's been a nary a hip-hop hit at Warner. And last year, they did manage to do nothing at all for Paul Simon's "Surprise" album. They couldn't even get it a Grammy nomination.
This is surprising in every way. Cohen is a music man. The industry keeps waiting for him to do something huge, introduce a great new artist and break a mega-selling album.
We hear every day that downloading has ruined the music business. I say that is ridiculous. Laziness and greed have destroyed the industry from within. Warner Music has been turned into a venture capital pawn. It doesn't matter if they don't release anything, they will just lay off 400 people to show a profit. The people don't matter and neither does the music.
Here's a suggestion: Why not just give up and change the name to Warner Management Group or Warner Miscellaneous Group? Because the music is dead there, and so is the hallowed legacy.
George Clooney's fundraiser for Darfur at the Cannes Film Festival is turning into the main event of the fortnight. The party, I'm told, will take place on a yacht. There's a rumor that U2 will perform. Tickets are said to be as high as $100,000.
Clooney's charity is called Not on Our Watch. "Ocean's Thirteen" producer Jerry Weintraub is the mastermind behind all this. The people of Darfur will have to name a street for him.
The original producer of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, Narada Michael Walden (pronounced "Narda"), was honored by NARAS last week in San Francisco for career achievement.
But Narada isn't finished making music. He's about a month away from releasing an album and single — the latter with three huge mega-stars. It's called "The More I Love My Life."
Walden also just produced Naomi Striemer's stunning debut, "Cars," featuring Carlos Santana, which is continuing to make inroads despite radio's resistance to playing anything new or that doesn't come bundled with a laptop.