Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The Complete Series
October 26, 2007
Thomas Schlamme, Timothy Busfield, Lesli Linka Glatter, John Fortenberry,
Starring: Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford, Steven Weber, D.L. Hughley, Sarah Paulson, Nate Corddry, Timothy Busfield, Evan Handler, Carlos Jacott,
Easily one of the most anticipated and hyped television shows to debut in the 2006-2007 season was Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the brainchild of Aaron Sorkin, the creative force behind The West Wing. It promised to be a smart, insightful and funny behind-the-scenes look at a Saturday Night Live-style sketch comedy show. However, Studio 60 garnered mediocre ratings and coupled with an expensive budget per episode, NBC canceled it after one season, keeping, instead, 30 Rock, a sitcom with the exact same premise but played for traditional laughs.
Right in the middle of a typically mediocre broadcast, the show’s executive producer (Judd Hirsch) pulls a Network (1976) and publicly criticizes the show, the network, and the state of mainstream T.V. Jack Rudolph (Weber), the head network executive takes over, immediately assesses situation, and how to control the damage. Jordan McDeere (Peet), the new network president on her first day, proposes a ballsy move: hire Matt Albie (Perry) and Danny Tripp (Whitford) as head writer and the show’s executive producer, respectively. The problem is that Jack fired them from the show four years ago and they vowed never to return, making a name for themselves in films almost out of spite.
Jordan pitches them the show anyway and with a bit of industry insider information, makes Danny an offer he can’t refuse. They begrudgingly accept and the rest of the season plays out the various complex relationships among the comedy show’s cast members. Matt and Danny’s conflicts with the network execs and all sorts of crisis that come up every episode. For example, a continuing story arc is Matt and Danny dealing with two of the show’s maverick, pain-the-ass writers (Hander and Jacott). The series also deals with internal politics, like how a potentially controversial sketch could piss off a significant portion of the viewers (or, at the very least, a vocal portion) who, in turn, could boycott a lucrative sponsor’s products and thereby scare them off. In other words, Studio 60 examines the push and pull of commerce and creativity.
You’ve got to hand it to Sorkin for casting against type. Matthew Perry, known predominantly for his role as Chandler on the sitcom Friends or lightweight cinematic fare like Three to Tango (1999), plays a tightly wound writer who is constantly under pressure to fill a sketch comedy show with content that will make people laugh. His character also butts heads with egotistical staff writers and has to find a way to work with Harriet Hayes (Paulson), his ex-girlfriend and cast member who is also devoutly Christian. Perry’s role requires him to be serious a lot more than being funny and he’s more than up for the job. His character is flawed and has all kinds of layers and that makes him one of the most fascinating characters on the show.
D.L. Hughley also has a reputation as a comedian and gets to show his serious side as one of the cast members plagued with self-doubt. Steven Weber is another sitcom veteran (Wings) who plays a ball-busting network chief and Jordan’s primary antagonist. Bradley Whitford plays a slightly more relaxed version of his West Wing character and plays it well as he acts as the calming influence of the Matt and Danny team. He plays well off of Perry and together they have excellent chemistry and timing. From the get-go you believe that Matt and Danny have been partners for years.
Sorkin, along with long-time collaborator, director Thomas Schlamme, adopt the same fast paced, roaming camera with long takes approach that they used on The West Wing. The walk and talks as they are known (because they involved characters walking and talking to each other) allow for dialogue-heavy episodes with the cast delivering it fast and furious reminiscent of screwball comedies. Like The West Wing, the look of Studio 60 has all the hallmarks of a slick, classy production, adopting a glossy cinematic look that is always interesting to watch.
The comparisons to Saturday Night Live are obvious, unavoidable and Studio 60 wisely addresses their existence. Several of the cast members even represent some of the ones SNL has had over the years. Part of the appeal of Studio 60 is that you constantly wonder if what goes on behind-the-scenes on SNL is what we’re seeing on this show. Sadly, a significant portion of North America did not feel the same way and the show was unceremoniously canceled after one season.
Disc one features a commentary on the “Pilot” by creator Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme who talks about the origins of the show’s elaborate sets and what inspired them. Sorkin acknowledges the obvious homage to Network and talks about how Matthew Perry was cast, how he and Whitford bonded, and prepared for their role, creating detailed backstories and histories for their characters.
The sixth disc has a half-hour promo entitled, “In Depth: The Evolution of Studio 60” hosted by Timothy Busfield. He takes us through the elaborate Studio 60 set and it is amazing just how detailed it all is. We also briefly meet Perry and Whitford. Interspersed throughout are clips from the Pilot episode. Sorkin says that he has always been a fan of SNL and wanted to do a behind-the-scenes of a sketch comedy show. Some of the cast members talk about what drew them to the show in this fascinating but ultimately sad featurette when you realize that none of these people know that their show will be canceled after only one season.