Monday saw the premieres of the two big bonus babies, STUDIO 60 and THE CLASS. Both come from A-list writers, both were written on spec, and both resulted in huge bidding wars. And neither had boffo debuts.
THE CLASS did about as well as longtime tired journeyman, KING OF QUEENS. And it got its ass kicked by models posing with briefcases.
STUDIO 60 did a little better than THE MEDIUM did a year ago but the MEDIUM was up against ABC Monday Night Football not WIFESWAP and didn’t have the benefit of the attaché bimbos as a lead in. Plus, STUDIO 60 lost 15% of its viewers in the second half hour. That’s over 2 1/2 million – roughly the number of Emmys the people involved with the series have won.
It’s such a familiar pattern. Networks, as a hedge against failure, clamor over anyone who has given them a hit, way overpaying for the privilege. In their zeal to throw millions at these creators, they didn’t look to see that Aaron’s show was waaaaaay too inside show business, and that David’s show was about, well…nothing. Just a bunch of people talking. It’s not just Sorkin and Crane that make for a hit, it’s also the IDEA.
WEST WING dealt with the highest stakes. Even if you didn’t know the specifics of the arguments (and if you didn't, don't feel bad. Bush doesn't understand them either), you did know that the gobblidy gook affected the state of the world somehow. In STUDIO 60 the big crisis is whether a sketch (that we’ve never seen) should air. Unless it's going to incite terrorists, who gives a shit? Plus, there was the fairy tale aspect of WEST WING – a smart caring compassionate President and staff. If real life could only be like that.
FRIENDS was the first show with no “grown up” authority figures. It was six twentysomethings making it on their own brought together by this apartment that no twentywomething in New York could ever afford. The CLASS is more twentysomethings brought together by some flimsy gimmick, doing really…I don’t know what they’re doing. Telling penis jokes.
I love Aaron Sorkin’s writing. I thought his show was smart, he set up his charcters well, and no one can write whithering toppers like he can. His characters routinely say the things in arguments you wish you could say just once. And he can be funny (so I’m REALLY threatened). Plus, he’s assembled a steller cast. Amanda Peet CAN act. Matthew Perry is more than just Chandler, Brad Whitford is so natural and real. And I thought Steven Weber, as the soulless network President stole the show.
But the subject matter is so inside and the fabulous dialogue goes by so quickly that I fear the average viewer gets left by the side of the road. And there’s another problem. Invariably, anytime the American audience is told they’re stupid and they’re sheep they don’t like it. You’d think you could slip that one by ‘em but I guess you can’t.
I hope people stay with STUDIO 60. Because of the huge penalty attached, I’m sure NBC will not yank it (translation: “We support our shows at NBC.”) And I bet for those of us who do know the industry, there will be some crackerjack episodes along the way.
I watched THE CLASS with two 23 year olds. They’re both big fans of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER so clearly they’re CBS’s target audience. By the first commercial they were saying “Let’s give this ten more minutes.” That can’t be good. And they were calling out the jokes right before they were said. These are two engineers, by the way, not aspiring comedy writers.
What we have here is a faint carbon of FRIENDS (featuring generally unlikable characters). The only thing surprising was not seeing the little NBC logo in the bottom corner. With sitcoms an endangered species already, who needs another FRIENDS ripoff, even from the creator of FRIENDS?
Networks never seem to remember that for every MURPHY BROWN there’s also a LOVE & WAR, INK, DOUBLE RUSH, and FOLEY SQUARE from the same genius. Even from the FRASIER folks there’s ENCORE, ENCORE.
I’m not saying never use these proven producers, just save some money for the other guys. This year’s big hits may just come from people you never heard of.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
By Ken Levine at 5:16 PM