studio 6A on the sunset strip

June 5, 2007 at 11:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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Parody of Studio 60 on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, w/ Liev Schriber 

When THE WEST WING came out and throughout almost its complete run, I disdained its inauthenticity. I just couldn’t buy that real people talked that way, really quickly and in fully drafted and edited speeches, and, as a recent political science baccalaureate, i was primed to love/hate a show set in the white house.

Then I caught SPORTS NIGHT, in re-runs on comedy central and loved it. I was unemployed at the time and it came on at 2am and 10am, perfect timing for the jobless, it turns out.  I knew the dialogue was ridiculous, some of the conflicts contrived, but the characters were so much fun to watch, and you could tell that the actors were having a lot of fun.  Also, I’ve never been much into sports, but it’s a world i’ve always been fascinated by, so while i couldn’t make it through SportsCenter, I could make it through a dramatized knockoff.

So a few years later, having caught a few episodes of the sixth season, as WEST WING began to focus on its presidential race, i got mildly interested in it and happened to come across the first season on dvd from the library. It sat unwatched for a few weeks, then I picked it up, intending to watch half an episode to fall asleep. I devoured the first season in a few days, immediately putting the second season on reserve and when it wasn’t ready the night i finished the first season, i drove to a blockbuster as they were closing to pick up the first couple of discs of the second season. I started downloading entire seasons with bittorrent. Now, the west wing ran for seven seasons, each season with about 22 45-minute episodes.  I got hooked at the end of the sixth season, 134 episodes in, which works out to 100.5 hours of television I downloaded and watched within about 5 weeks.

WEST WING does veer into ridiculousness, especially with the speechifying, but I was consistently impressed with the camerawork, the faux-policy wonk aspects and the essential, almost teasing, “there’s no way that could ever happen”.  One of the things I appreciate in writers like DeLillo, Chabon, or the McSweeney’s cabal are the little details, maybe one paragraph or half-page observations or facts.  The really clever, thoughtful asides that I would never considered (Arrested Development was a show made up almost completely of these asides).  I appreciated that an episode was never just about one thing, it was about six things and they might pay off in this episode or six episodes down the line.  I admired the level of complexity and trust they placed in the audience, which made all the middlebrow concessions in certain seasons just tolerable enough to continue.  And they had good act breaks.  There is something about a show, like 24 or The Sopranos, or The Wire that makes you just desperate to start another episode as soon as the last one ends.  It’s just a pleasure you take in watching something that, unlike the pleasure of eating cake or having sex that you just continue until your eyes cannot stay open any longer or you cannot be any later to whatever you have to do next.

And I like(d) Studio 60 too.  I think Sorkin may have set himself up for criticism in the pilot by setting the bar for the show within the show as reinventing television comedy, then following that solely with unfunny, unremarkable sketches.  If the Studio 60 were more about their failure to create a funny show, perhaps they could have sidestepped some of the criticism.  Or perhaps it’s that the endless oratory and navel-gazing asides are more in place when you’re dealing with issues of international diplomacy and national security.  The stakes for getting an unfunny sketch comedy show are maybe not so high.  Drama becomes melodrama.  And of course wincingly sentimental subplots and winking at tabloid details of Sorkin’s past make easy fodder for critics and difficult hurdles for supporters.

Want more Studio 60 ridicule?  Mad TV did a balls-on parody some time ago. 

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