Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Loitering at the water cooler


Not to turn this into a STUDIO 60 blog but with all the comments I thought I’d take one more day to offer additional thoughts. Tomorrow, I promise, on to new a new topic – me having to act in a scene with Robin Williams. Picture Fred Astaire and his cane. But for now…

*******

I’m waiting to see Aaron Sorkin write an actual funny sketch. Maybe that Krazy Kristians sketch we’ve heard so much about for two weeks.

Fellow writers, when you saw the scene where Matthew Perry viewed his writing staff as all hacks, didn’t you think in the back of your mind that that’s what Aaron Sorkin thinks of all of us?

And so again I say, let’s see an Aaron Sorkin penned FUNNY sketch.

When have you ever seen a press conference to welcome new showrunners? To get any show biz reporter to show up the network would have to provide a lavish buffet, goody bags, and the only other entertainment story of the day would have to be the DVD release of EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT. In reality, what are you going to ask these guys? “What are you going to do different?” to which they would respond, “Uh, tune in Friday night and see.”? Then back to Amanda Peet for, “Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. Grab a plate. The food stations are now open. All we ask is that you don’t fill your pockets.”

Brad Whitford, as great as he is, is still Josh from WEST WING to me.

The weeklong countdown clock that Matt Perry says would drive anyone nuts – try having to reset it every 108 minutes and then come talk to me.

In the original pilot script, dated October 6, 2005 the network name was UBS.

Steven Weber is still the best thing in the show. He is soulless and delicious. How does one get from WINGS to this? Do THE SHINING in the middle.

Doesn’t NBS have bigger things to worry about than their Friday night 11:30 pm sketch show? How good can their prime time line up be? Let’s see Amanda deal with Dick Wolf.

If you polled a studio audience of SNL and asked who Gilbert & Sullivan were, I bet most would say two of the Chipmunks.

Is John Mauceri considered stunt casting? Jesus, when we were doing ALMOST PERFECT the network said no to Angie Dickinson.

It’s hard to root for people who are all beautiful, talented, rich, and could get another job in a minute. At least if the gang from WEST WING screwed up there’d be thermonuclear war. Here, the affiliate in Jewhate, Arkansas pre-empts the show.

But for all its flaws I still find STUDIO 60 fascinating and will watch again next week.

And yet, at the end of the day I bet the Tina Fey show will be more realistic and funnier.

49 comments:

Arthur101 said...

Ken - your blog is great, keep it up please.

you wrote:

"when you saw the scene where Matthew Perry viewed his writing staff as all hacks, didn’t you think in the back of your mind that that’s what Aaron Sorkin thinks of all of us?"

Matthew Perry's character made fun of himself in a later scene, about how he actually thought to say that to the writers. His partner is left to follow up: What HAPPENED to the whole situation here? How did it get to this, etc... It worked well to introduce the writing table first like that. I didnt identify with Perry's outburst, but with his sense of being out of place. And - dont we all hate that middle aged man trying to pretend to be a teenager?

I think what Studio60 did with its second episode, is establish that in their world the best comedy is going to delivered from messy, human, reality, and that is the problem AND the solution. And it is opposed to a culture and society that works censored, uptight, homogenized (such as stale, formalist jokes on "politics" as we witnessed on the writers-table, that drove Perry crazy).

There is something gratifying about seeing how the set-up of introducing the supposedly televised conference that introduces live, spontaneous and publically the troubled psyche of the producer/author ( the problem = I am a recovering cokehead) transforms into an in your face scripted (and live, televised,) solution and so on.

My favorite line was when whats her name asked Perry why did she get a laugh with a scene involving butter at rehearsal, but then not at dress rehearsl, and he says the first time you asked for the butter, the second time you asked for the laugh. Simple.

I agree no one knows Gilbert and Sullivan today in that audience demographic, but isnt that also true back when Linda Ronstadt was doing G&S "Pirates"? I watched Sat.Nite Live when she performed a number live there eons ago. Wouldnt you agree no one knows most of the references who watches Sat.Nite Live. A Ronald Reagan reference? Watergate? the whole 1950s B-movie culture? i doubt they get those either, its just types.

But I admit it IS against all odds how Gilbert and Sullivan get quoted still today, like with Sideshow Bob on Simpsons.

pennythecat said...

In the last five years I have caught snippets of SNL, hoping to find a laugh with my random sampling and have come away with nothing.

What makes you feel Fey can pull of this new show?

Hawise said...

Gilbert and Sullivan still work today because they knew their audience. Sullivan was a pretentious ass but he needed the money to travel in the elite circles that he preferred and so he wrote the trashy popcorn music that would stick in your brain like a McDonald's theme. Gilbert hated everyone but he knew what they liked and he had a way with words that is hard to beat.
Studio 60 might work better if there was more tension between Whitford and Perry's characters. If they hated each other as much as Gilbert and Sullivan hated each other but knew that they were magic when working together. From what I have seen so far, the show has great quality in production but the characters are all pablum and no sauce.

Anonymous said...

This is off topic, but I heard that MASH is making it to TV Land starting in January.

Paul Duca said...

I hope that's true, because I don't stay up until 2:30 in the morning for the only broadcast airing in Boston, and as my cable system does not care enough to send the very best, I don't have the Hallmark Channel (at least beyond a few odd movies in On-Demand).

Corrie said...

A couple of comments - first, i'm quite sure that real doctors, lawyers and cops find most of the shows about their profession absurdly inaccurate. It doesn't make them bad shows or not entertaining. I can assure you, it didn't bother me one bit that they didn't talk about food or goodie bags at the news conference. Second, I also can't help but see Whitford in West Wing, and I try mightily. I think they would go a long way to helping with the obvious by putting him in something other than the same suit (with or without a jacket) and tie every day. Let the guy wear a sweater once in a while and it'll help break the spell !

Gardener said...

Insightful and funny, as always. I also agree that Tina Feys show will probably be funnier and more realistic than Studio 60. But I don't think it will last as long anyway, because the shows don't really have the same premise.

Studio 60 isn't about the sketches, it's about the people behind the sketches, and that's probably why we haven't seen the Krazy Kristians sketch and might never do.

To me the second episode was everything the pilot wasn't and now I'm happy, it's definately the best new show this season (yet).

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry were the same guy... still not sure that they are not...

VP19 said...

In the original pilot script, dated October 6, 2005 the network name was UBS.

Which was also the fictional network where the brilliant talk-show parody "America 2Night" (successor to "Fernwood 2Night" with Martin Mull and Fred Willard) aired. Its slogan: "Where we put U before the BS."

Ger Apeldoorn said...

The network turned down the original Police Woman on a show about the writers of a show about a police woman?

LeeChesnut said...

Someone commented that Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford seem to be the same guy. I think they are both Sorkin, just split off into two men. But why do they BOTH have to have drug issues? Sorkin should strive a little harder to create some differences between these two.

Ethan said...

But for all its flaws I still find STUDIO 60 fascinating and will watch again next week.

And yet, at the end of the day I bet the Tina Fey show will be more realistic and funnier.


I think NBC is blowing this to some extent by trying to bill this as a knee-slapping laugh riot. It's not. At best, I'd call Studio 60 a "dramedy", that yes, takes itself a bit too seriously. But my wife and I like it, if for no other reason that it isn't "fluff". It may be doomed, though.

One thing that bugs me about the show is that they keep dangling one act or another (such as the "cold open") for 45 minutes and cut it close enough that I swear the next scene will be everyone toweling off and saying "good show tonight". Fortunately they haven't wussed out like that, yet.

Herbie Popsfarter said...

You are ABSOLUTELY right! That's exactly the feeling I got. That Sorkin was just expressing his own sentiments about writers in the industry. (Though I must admit, I love most of his writing i.e.: A Few Good Men, WW, etc.) But then again, I AM a hack.

BrianScully said...

Honestly, I couldn't care less what Aaron Sorkin thinks of me as a writer. I respect his success and the power he seems to wield with the network, and like any human being, I probably envy both. But I think, and this is strictly my opinion, that his writing is very overrated.

People constantly mention "SportsNight" as if it were some gem of a sitcom that the network just didn't support... but it wasn't funny. Did anyone ever laugh out loud at "SportsNight"? My idea of a gem of a sitcom that a network didn't support was "Police Squad" or "Buffalo Bill".

And as for "A Few Good Men"... geez, is the over-the-top "You can't handle the truth" in the same league with anything Paddy Chayevsky ever wrote? And what about "The American President"? If you want to see a great film about the Presidency, watch Gore Vidal's "The Best Man".

My problem with Aaron Sorkin is that he seems to be viewed in a vacuum... because TV blows so bad in general right now, he's looked at as some sort of genius because his shows are beautifully shot and usually cast very well. But again, take a West Wing script, remove the character names of C.J., Toby, Josh, and whoever the hell Rob Lowe played and see if you can tell which character is wittily finishing each other's sentences? His characters all sound the same.

In fact, the most common thing I have heard from others about Studio 60 is "I don't really think it's particularly good, but I'm going to keep watching it." God, now THAT is something I can respect Aaron Sorkin for. He's figured out a way to write a very medicore show that people will criticize but still watch. Now THAT I can respect.

HoneyBearKelly said...

The only way Tina Fey's show will be better than Studio 60 is the correct use of Alec Baldwin.

Anonymous said...

I want so much to love this show but I just don't care about any of the leads. Poor Tim Busfield is the only guy on the set with a heart and a smile that isn't chiseled into a grimmace or a snarl. He must feel like he's Michael Landon plopped into the middle of a Jerry Springer show.

sean said...

I still can't separate Brad Whit from his star turn in Billy Madison. He needs a little more of that comic timing in this role, less of the harried wonk.

Though it's not like it matters because this show will fail only because it takes comedy too seriously. There is nothing less interesting than listening to comics discuss their craft. There's a reason there's no Inside the Comics Studio. B to the oring. Also, if you look at the actual writing staff on the show there's not a single writer with any comedy background. It's all Sorkinites.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Maybe I'm too old to be the intended target for this show, but I recall a Studio One live drama series and everyone knows 60 Minutes. Studio 60 sounds like a blend of the two. Not a catchy title.

bstampy said...

Yes, the butter line was good, BUT the woman asking this question is supposed to be a COMEDY GENIUS -- she should know the answer to this question. Anyone who is familiar with comedy or a student of the history of SNL can see that this show is riddled with cracks. Sorkin is talented, but he is out of his element.

Anonymous said...

Ken, with ya on the Steven Weber- isn't it weird the funniest scenes about the backstage of a Late Night comedy show involve the purportedly humorless Network "suits"?

benson said...

Brian...SportsNight was not a sitcom. It was a dramedy. It's only crime was that the great American public doesn't really go for that format. Any number of other similar carcasses on the television highway. Brooklyn Bridge, maybe even Picket Fences come to mind.
(Hell, even Northern Exposure wasn't that wildly popular)

Corrie said "I'm quite sure that real doctors, lawyers and cops find most of the shows about their profession absurdly inaccurate. It doesn't make them bad shows or not entertaining." I agree, but...WKRP was not a sitcom...it was a documentary!!!!

Auri said...

Looks like our Ken Levine has a problem with the level of aaron sorkin's writing :)

Michael Zand said...

As far as originality goes, I’d love to see this premise incorporated into “Deal Or No Deal.”

http://www.glumbert.com/media/tonguetwister

ps. I meant to post this on the latest entry, so sorry about the repeat in the later post.

Media Yenta said...

The Tina Fey showis may or not be more realistic, but it's funny. Tracy Morgan and Alec Baldwin are great on the show.

If you treat it more like a funny sitcom and not a docu-drama you won't drive yourself crazy.

Studio 6o- i didn't know comedy shows had so many hallways.

Michael Zand said...

As far as originality goes, I’d love to see this premise incorporated into “Deal Or No Deal.”

http://www.glumbert.com/media/
tonguetwister

ps. I meant to post this on the latest entry, so sorry about the repeat in the later post.

Dave Williams said...

Some very interesting and insightful comments here.

Two weeks in I love Studio 60.

I agree that Brad Whitford is still Josh. Is that a bad thing? Seems shrewd to me. Sorkin took him and Busfield from the West Wing, probably the two most likable characters on that show, to give us a happy sense of familiarity. Then he tossed in a grown-up, fully developed Chandler Bing from Friends.

Seems to me he knows his audience.

And why do we have to label things "comedy," "drama" or "dramedy?" Do we need to classify it to decide if it's good?

It's very good and getting better.

IMHO.

Mike Barer said...

The show has snappy dialogue, but in reality, how many of us use snappy dialogue in a work situation?

Shky said...

Anyone who is familiar with comedy or a student of the history of SNL can see that this show is riddled with cracks. Sorkin is talented, but he is out of his element.

And, as was already noted, anyone familiar with science sees that CSI is riddled with cracks. Anyone familiar with law can see that Law & Order is riddled with cracks. Anyone familiar with technology can see that virtually every TV show and movie is riddled with cracks. You can't expect any show to be totally acurate about their subject matter. Else you're just watching a documentary. And that's not why people flip on the TV.

Anonymous said...

Ken,

Have you seen the Tina Fey pilot?

I have and it stinks.

Dave Williams said...

The show has snappy dialogue, but in reality, how many of us use snappy dialogue in a work situation?

Precisely why we watch stuff like this. It's entertainment, not life.

This is why critics hate Neil Simon -- the most successful playwright since Shakespeare.

BrianScully said...

Benson... I understand what you mean, but a "dramedy" is a word that came out in the last 20 years to describe just about every unfunny sitcom that was being defended by someone. If no one is laughing, it's not a comedy... not a "com"...not a "edy"... it's just what it is... unfunny. I appreciate your having enjoyed "SportNight" and my taste in sitcoms is only my taste, neither right or wrong... just mine. In fact, to show you the biggest chink in my armor, I personally think that the Oliver Platt/Lee Evans film, "Funny Bones" is one of the best comedies I have ever seen... and I've taken a lot of crap in my life for espousing that view. I should also now be taking crap for using the word "espousing".

Jameson said...

It's unlikely we'll see Krazy Kristians. Like the shark in "Jaws" and the alien in "Alien," it's best left to the imagination. Remember, this isn't a sketch show. Sorkin has worked on one comedy show "SportsNight" (lots of very funny moments but no sketches) and one drama "West Wing" which had its share of laughs - as does life. It'd be great to see him pen a funny sketch, but this show doesn't necessarily depend on it. It's a backstage drama with funny moments.

When a press conference to welcome new showrunners? When the on-air meltdown and departure of the previous showrunner is the biggest showbiz story of the weekend.

Seeing Josh Lyman when you look at Danny Tripp is kind of your problem, not the show's. But I agree with another commenter: this problem goes away if you dress Whitford more like Schlamme.

Regardless of whether SNL's audience would know who Gilbert & Sullivan is, they might still appreciate the song and get its jokes. The point of "Studio 60" is that TV shows shouldn't be talking down to their audiences; they should be crafting great television and expect audiences to rise to the occasion. (Audiences may surprise you.) So, it makes perfect sense that Albie and Sorkin would choose G&S.

America has no problem rooting for beautiful, obnoxiously self-obsessed Seattle surgeons or weirdo Las Vegas forensicologists, despite the fact that thermonuclear war is an unlikely consequence for their gaffes. Quit constantly comparing the stakes of "Studio 60" to those of "The West Wing" - you're not making any sense.

Thanks for continuing to give "Studio 60" a chance, despite your problems with it. I know I'm deeply grateful. You're like a saint!

(And of course "30 Rock" will be funnier - it's a comedy show. As such, it'll probably devote a lot more time to jokes than drama and characters - and it probably won't have a lot of time for realism, either.)

Anonymous said...

first a comment about the why didn't i get the laugh speech this is lifted word for word from an old story about actors i first heard it years ago, granted i didn't think to insert it into a scrip but let's not give Sorkin all the credit
Also regarding how he feels about staff writers I think his rant about clothing and his ongoing reference to hacks is exactly how he feels how else do you explian the character Ricky Tahoe? a rather obvious swipe at Rick Cleveland the writer from the first season of westwings who wrote the emmy award winning episode and was snubbed on stage while Aaron took all the credit and didn't even awknowledge his fellow writers- take a look at Rick Cleveland's essay on Fresh yarn for how that went down.

benson said...

Brian, yes, you get grief for "espousing".

I don't disagree with you. Maybe we just need a label for a show that isn't a situation comedy, but also isn't a drama, in the sense that horrible things aren't happening in the plot or to the characters.

I wish there were a ton more "good" sitcoms like the kind Ken has been associated with, but, I wish there were more good non-sitcom shows that aren't hardcore serious with dying and gore, etc. I know the public doesn't generally support these kind of shows, and that many need an HBO type nest where ratings aren't necessarily the only determining factor in it's survival. I mentioned Brooklyn Bridge earlier as an example. That show was "too good" for network television. But what a gem it was. (Yes, I know network television is a for profit business. I'm just ranting and tired of way too much lowest common denominator programming.)

Anonymous said...

I agree about 30 Rock. I saw the piot and (god forbid) thought that Baldwin was the best part. Also, it would be in Sorkin's best interest to never show a sketch, ever.

PS What was up with the Jewish line? Seems random and out of place.

Anonymous said...

So there was an on-air meltdown (played by Hirsch) in the opening number of the live-tv "Studio60", which starts the ball rolling for the plot of Sorkins "Studio60". The meltdown inadvertandtly causes the intention to revive the show's legacy.
In the second episode, the backstage production of the live-tv "Studio60" has everyone working on developing an introduction to this new spirit, by way of an opening act. Meanwhile, parallel, in Sorkins Studio60 opens with again with a stage within a stage, at the network's press conference to introduce the new guys and revitalized "Studio60", where once again a sudden unscripted, live impulsive act (admitting coke usage) comes to shake things up.

With all the frames within frames, or stages within stages, connected by either impulsive human acts or scripted comedy, I was so damn sure that the opening number was going to be that the two guys decide to satirize the current news - which would be their show, and specifically the meltdown of Hirsch's character the week before, that started everything off.

That would have shown not only they accept themselves as fair game, but that that meltdown was the obvious target to take on and make humor out of (unless you are too liberal to want to "sully it" because it endangers your legacy). It would have been a great bookend to the first episode opener.

The song idea was ok, but seemed very familiar, maybe cloying. It would have been tougher - and also not really nice but bittersweet, accepting the best joke no matter what, and therefore good - to have taken on for satire, the speech of Hirsch's character.

Great Big Radio Guy said...

FWIW, Rolling Stone saw the Tina Fey show (yeah, I keep forgetting the name, too). It seemed they would have rather spent a half hour whacking themselves in the kneecaps with a fungo bat.

I'm firmly in the choir singing the praises of "Studio 60." The final five seconds of Episode 2 were fall-out funny (and frightening).

ChrisO said...

I don't know if it's true, but I've read that Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall and SNL fame has been brought in to write any of the skits on the show.

The weirdest part to me was the prayer before the show. Does any show really do that? And they take turns leading the prayer?

Sports Night is to me still one of the most overrated shows. I watched it with some frequency, I think largely because there was nothing interesting opposite it.

While I didn't think Funny Bones was one of the best comedies ever, I think Lee Evans' comedy act in the film was tremendous. It's worth watching just for that.

And I would also give a shout out to Buffalo Bill. And Bakersfield PD.

Billy Lamb said...

Those nostalgic for the bygone days of say, when Sat. Night Live was still funny (or beyond), will probably find themselves wishing for the spirit of (Phil Hartman, etc.) to periodically inhabit the show, but perhaps asking Sorkin to be funny here (in the skits) is too much. I would have settled for a better 'mad as hell' speech, myself but oh well -
Great looking ensemble. I hope it works.

Seymour said...

We've been seeing the Krazy Kristians sketch for 6 years now, only we call it The Bush Administration.

Anonymous said...

In the end, the opening number song was probably chosen due to considerations of current television, and the success and influence of "Family Guy"-style comedy (American Dad etc..) and its musical numbers (Particularly Stewie's faux Englishness). If they didnt consider that... they should of.

Fussy said...

Not "should of", it's "should HAVE". Gawd!

benson said...

What amazes me is how a show (SNL) can be on for what, 31 years now? And that show has been truly funny, what, maybe 10 times in those 31 years, and yet, so many people talk of it in almost reverential terms. But yet, even on this thread, it is always comments like "In the last five years I have caught snippets of SNL, hoping to find a laugh with my random sampling and have come away with nothing."

The only reason SNL is on is because there's nothing up against it in that time slot and it generates a lot of money for GE.

And if you want to see late night funny...get a copy of the SCTV discs. That show did rings around SNL.

FutilityPhil said...

Ken, I really enjoy your insight on "Studio 60", and I agree with a good deal of what you're saying.

It seems to me that Aaron Sorking has a tin ear for comedy. For all the talk about creating a cold open that would announce the new regime's arrival with a bold statement,the sketch was a real let down. At this point, Gilbert and Sullivan parodies are kind of hacky.

I feel like Sorkin doesn't really have a good sense of what types of sketches might make it on to national comedy shows these days. For all of the on-screen hand wringing about the "Krazy Kristians" sketch, even that premise doesn't sound to me like something that would make it onto "SNL". At first blush, it sounds one-note and a little too "On the Nose". I can imagine a head writer being pitched the premise "Krazy Kristians" and saying, "Nah, what else you got?"...not "Our program's integrity depends on airing this sketch".

I agree, the proof will not come until Sorkin writes a genuinely FUNNY sketch for the show. He's got some funny sketch writers on the show (I know Mark McKinney from "Kids in the Hall" is a writer), but it remains to be seen if he gives some oversight to the sketches the program features, or if he reverts to his now notorious self-reliance.

Nate B said...

So, I agree with much of what has been said, and have little to add. Except I wanted ask, since no one's mentioned it -- Was Sorkin doing an homage to himself with Danny's line "This isn't t.v. camp. Not everyone gets to play"?

Or did he actually forget that Toby on the West Wing once complained (about something Sam Seaborn wanted to do) "This isn't government camp. Not everyone gets to play."

It was funny when Toby said it. It was sad to hear it again.

Caroline said...

I kinda hope the Crazy Christians sketch will be much referred to be never seen.

And yes, given the setting of the show, seeing some actual sketch comedy happen would be good.

I've seen 30 Rock pilot (both versions, with and without Jane Krakowski) and it isn't funnier. It pains me to say that Alec Baldwin is maybe the funniest person on the show.

I liked the second episode less than the first, but I'm still holding out hope. I agree with you -- Brad is always going to be smart-ass Josh to me, too. But I am liking Matthew Perry and Tim Busfield. Is it just me, or does Amanda Peet remind you of Jamie Tarses (on purpose, like she's trying to be her circa her ABC days?)?

Walt said...

If you polled a studio audience of SNL and asked who Gilbert & Sullivan were, I bet most would say two of the Chipmunks.

I have to admit, I've never seen Gilbert & Sullivan, but I remember them being spoofed at least once:
***
I am the very model of a cartoon individual
My animation's comical, unusual, and whimsical
I'm quite adpet at funny gags, comedic theory I have read
From wicked puns and stupid jokes to anvils that drop on your head

I'm very good at fancy dances, I can even pirouette
Then smack the villain...with a fish, I know my cartoon etiquette
I can make my face all mean and really give you quite a fright
Then make up with flowers made of real exploding dynamite

When in a jam, I just yell "stop" and villains in their tracks are froze
Then I sneak up and utter "start" and take my hands and honk their nose
I am quite proud to be in such a hierarchal progeny
From Daffy Duck and Tweety Bird to Babs and Buster Bunny

To suit my mood I can call forth a lot of different sceneries
Like outer space and desert scapes and Himalayan eateries
From this bag here why I can pull most anything imaginable
Like office desks and lava lights and Bert who is a cannibal

You see in matters comical, unusual, and whimsical,
We are the very model of cartoon individuals!

-- Animaniacs - I am the very model of a cartoon individual
as seen at the end of this YouTube vid -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGs3K7fmV_k
H.M.S. Yakko (Animaniacs)

***

Lex said...

WKRP was not a sitcom...it was a documentary!!!

In 1984, after years of being a WKRP fan, I became a part-time disc jockey at a very WKRP-like station that suddenly found itself, albeit very briefly, at the top of the market (Top 50-size market).

It was, to summarize, quite a rush.

I didn't stick around for what followed: move to posh new digs, sterilization of playlist, fall back to ratings mediocrity, etc., etc., and that's probably a good thing.

Tom Grante said...
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