The West (Coast) Wing: How Studio 60 Moved Off the Sunset Strip

Curator's Note

The evolution of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip over the 2006-2007 season was fascinating not only to me but to the press and bloggers as well. What began in September as a show about the inner-workings of a sketch comedy series slowly turned into a screwball comedy before settling into a politically-tinged melodrama. By the end of its run, this heavily marketed critical darling could barely be found on NBC’s schedule. (With minimal fanfare, NBC burned off the last six episodes after May sweeps.)

What began as the focal point of the show – the politics of making late-night television – was all but forgotten by the last five episodes. Instead, viewers suddenly found themselves transported to a West Wing-style clone. (Studio 60’s creator, Aaron Sorkin, created both The West Wing and Studio 60.) Suddenly the show shifted its focus to two unrelated stories: the kidnapping of sketch comedy star Tom Jeter’s (Nate Corrdry) soldier brother in Afghanistan and a chronicle of how Studio 60’s new head writer Matt (Matthew Perry) and producer Danny (Bradley Whitford) lost their jobs on the show five years earlier. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover that only weeks after the September 11th attacks, Matt and Danny decided to go against the advice of network executives and air a sketch critical of the Bush Administration. The conflict over the sketch ultimately led to their departure from the show.

Cumulatively these two narrative threads provide a platform upon which to debate such issues as the nature of patriotism, the status of free speech in America, and the questionable motives of the Bush administration. The flashback sequence that accompanies this piece – which takes place following the dress rehearsal but before the sketch airs – illustrates many of these issues.

Comments

Richard Edwards's picture

Like Alisa, I too was

Like Alisa, I too was fascinated by the directions that Studio 60 was taking. It was clear to me from the beginning, though, that this show wouldn’t last on the network schedule, even before its engagement with more political issues. I loved the last story arc, but it was clear to me that the show had no second season since it was routinely at the bottom of the ratings, and perhaps Sorkin realized that as well as he unloaded a massive heft of politics into the final shows—though not without melodramatic side-stories typified by the Danny/Jordan relationship and preganancy.

The show always struck me as a meta-show, a show about the power of television, and it never really cared about the backstage story per se (unlike a show like 30 Rock) but really about making pointed commentaries about the construction and compromises of making of a weekly television show. The opening scene of the series was taken straight out of the film “Network,” and Danny and Matt were Sorkin-esque progressive idealists to be sure. But the final story arc was wonderful for its 2001/2007 interlacing around patriotism and free speech. Too bad such intelligent and witty programming almost never can find a long-term commitment on broadcast television.

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