Sunday, January 21, 2007

What I really think of Aaron Sorkin

STUDIO 60 returns with new shows. I hope it does well.

Aaron Sorkin probably doesn’t believe me. He thinks I hate him. He dismissed comments I made in a recent LA TIMES article by saying I wasn’t a “real” comedy writer and was unemployed. I’d like to think that based on my credits and agent that neither is true (although if he found out I did AfterMASH I could see why he might make that claim).

I actually have great respect for Mr. Sorkin. I stopped watching WEST WING when he left because the show just wasn’t as good. Yes, I wrote a parody (If Aaron Sorkin wrote a show about baseball), but I also parodied LOST, 24, and HOUSE and their producers found it amusing.

My criticism of STUDIO 60 was very much in line with everyone else’s – the characters seem too smug, the sketches aren’t funny, Sara Paulson is not convincing as a gifted comedienne – but for whatever reason that article really hit a nerve. (Rumor has it the TIMES is trying to make nice by preparing another article, this one about how people love STUDIO 60.)

The new batch of shows will veer more towards romantic comedy, Sorkin promises. That might work. Often times there are growing pains in the first year as a show tries to find its groove. Watch early episodes of CHEERS. We did a lot of experimenting. Some episodes focused on Sam & Diane, others were more like BARNEY MILLER where our regulars dealt with colorful characters who entered the bar. It took about half a season until the series really found its way (although it was still getting its ass kicked in the ratings by mighty TUCKER'S WITCH).

I do have empathy for Sorkin. It’s not easy creating in a negative environment. I’ve been there. Everything you do is second guessed, the cast starts looking at you like you killed their puppy, your budget gets cut, you're pre-empted for a RUGRATS prime time special, and your health deteriorates faster than that guy who ate nothing but McDonalds for a month. When a show is going well your hair comes out in clumps, so you can imagine when it’s not. But I think he makes it harder on himself by being so defensive. There's no witch hunt. No one is attacking him personally.

There’s another reason to root for Sorkin. Networks and studios are inserting themselves into the creative process now more than ever before. It's like being eaten to death by moths. Very few showrunners enjoy the autonomy that Sorkin has. So if his show is a success, other writers can point to it and say, “See? If you just leave the creator alone he’ll turn out a better show.” If it's not a hit, you're up until 3:00 in the morning upping the stakes and making the actress they forced you to take more likeable.

So when I say I hope he turns it around I’m being absolutely sincere. I don’t hate Aaron Sorkin. I just wish he didn't take himself, his show, and his critics so seriously. This isn't the White House. You can have a few laughs.

69 comments:

Anonymous said...

We've been watching the show just because we were such fans of West Wing. I still love the witty walk-talk style, and I really did like John Goodman. But the premise is bad - on West Wing, we saw serious issues discussed. What serious issue can be discussed on a sketch comedy show. I still love the writing, the same way I love David Mamet's writing. Writing is the only thing!

Alex Epstein said...

He dissed you because you criticized his show? Everyone criticizes his show. Maybe they're all right.

Einstein was told that people were preparing a book called ONE HUNDRED AUTHORS AGAINST EINSTEIN. He shrugged and said, "If I were wrong, wouldn't one be enough?"

Mike Barer said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Barer said...

I think very creative people can be difficult to get a handle on.
As for his making attacks on you, I started watching this show thinking that I was going to love it and couldn't make past the 3rd episode.

mbfh said...

You worked on "AfterMASH"?

Oh man.

(I kid because I love.)

Matt Watts said...

catfight.

JOHN LEADER said...

Aaron Sorkin's got much bigger things to worry about than what you, or anyone else thinks of his TV show.
Apparently, he doesn't realize that, which is too bad.

D. McEwan said...

YOU are not a "Real" comedy writer???
So MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, etc., were all FAKE comedy shows?

Well I've seen a LOT of the comedy you've written over 30 years, and I've seen the comedy sketches on STUDIO 60, and the comedy stylings of Harriet the annoying Christian chick.

One of you is writing fake comedy all right. Which one? Which one? I'm stumped.

I did see Kristen Chenowith on Letterman a week or so back, confirming that Sorkin had asked her permission to base Harriet on her, and then making sure she publically distanced herself FAR away from Harriet's comments about gays. Kristen knows who her fans are.

baby writer said...

mistake turning studio 60 into a romantic comedy (I sort of vomit a little when I see the commercials now), perhaps even bigger than writing a drama about a glorified Mad TV in the first place.

my two cents: there is drama to be found in our little corner of show business. however, I posit that it's less of the anti-religious right/how heroic these characters can be in the face of rampant conservatism or corporate interests. and more of the how seriously these people take themselves, how huge their egos are, how fucked up their childhoods were, how dysfunctional their adulthoods are, how severe their addictions are (danny tripp is a very functional coke addict), how weird their sexual habits are, and how much they just need to get laughs (love) and how if they don't, they kind of wither up and die.

read one of those old SNL in the 70's books. plenty of drama there. meantime, 30 rock, larry sanders, the comeback and extras seem to have gotten it right.

all that aside (sorry for rambling), the main reason I don't like the show is it's preachy and boring and lacks nuance. yes it's on the "correct" side of the issues, but I feel like there's not much difference between a sermon from mr. sorkin and some preacher he hates so fervently. two sides, same coin.

Anonymous said...

Is Studio 60 still on the air?

I saw the first one...

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ken, you know how much I agree about all of this. Having been at the event in question and having recently transcribed my recording of it, the one thing that I don't think was reported anywhere (including by me) is that, right after Aaron's "the writers she interviewed are unemployed" line, he went on a long attack against Employee of the Month, the comedy troupe that was also heavily quoted in the story. So while Sorkin was no doubt directing some of his bile at you, he made it sound like his big issue was with these other people.

Isaac Ho said...

Could it be that he's annoyed because we hold him to a higher standard just because he is Aaron Sorkin?

To put anything out there is to invite criticism, some fair, some unfair. That is the cost of doing business if you're lucky to put out something people think it's worth commenting on.

I'll keep poking him with a stick. That's how I show my love.

Isaac

Joshua James said...

I like the show, since the beginning, more than 30 Rock and I never got into West Wing.

I loved Sports Night and to me, this is closer to that.

I can see how it would tick a few folks off, but that's one reason why I enjoy it, plus Matthew Perry and Steven Weber kick ass, they're that good in this.

EmployeeMegan said...

Having read the transcripts, I agree with Alan's assertion that he mosly took issue with us (Employee of the Month) because we were, by far, the most "amateur" of comedy writers quoted in the article. It's interesting that a man of Sorkin's wealth and success, when given the option, takes on the 20-something struggling writers instead of the established and respected writers such as yourself.

It's also interesting that he doesn't think comedy is funny in rehearsal, but that's a whole other can of worms.

I'll just say what Sorkin should have, when asked for his opinion on the LA Times and bloggers: I'm glad he's paying attention, and I appreciate the press.

Anonymous said...

Sorkin's forever confusing more dialogue with better dialogue. I've never found any of his shows "believable," from the wince-inducing very-special-episode pathos of Sportsnight to the baffling reverse-synergistic Studio 60.

The guy, flat-out, is a mediocre talent with great handlers.

Anonymous said...

"...but I also parodied LOST, 24, and HOUSE and their producers found it amusing." That says it all. Sorkin has no sense of humor, which is apparent from watching any episode of Studio 60.

Madfoot said...

Here's the thing: the sketches on Studio 60 aren't funny, but there's still comedy gold here -- Matthew Perry and Bradley Witford are a perfect match for the rat-a-tat dialogue and emotional-confusion- masked-as-smartass-smirking character development.

I think it's OK for a show to be good at some things and not so good at others. I don't watch this show for the comedy, I watch it for my weekly dose of earnest, which has been prescribed to my entire generation by Dr. Sixties as a cure for our ongoing case of irony. It works!

As for Aaron Sorkin personally taking offense to things, well, the guy isn't exactly the poster child for emotional health, and that's okay. I fear that trying to get him to understand the difference between teasing and criticism is going to be a lost cause, but big ups to you for making the distinction here.

AfterMASH. Heh.

zach said...

Aaron Sorkin is reading this blog in the middle of a FIELD IN AFGHANISTAN!

dhppy said...

Perhaps I agree with Sorkin. I always found your comedy skills unreal. Out of this world, even.

ahomer said...

Ken, you weren't the one I thought Sorkin was aiming at, don't take the bullet.

Sorkin should quit gazing longingly on his every written word and read everyone's lips: its about HARRIET! The major struggle with what could be adjusted in the scripts, tweaks here and there, is that there is this incredible center of gravity, a dark star -pun intended- that is the character of HARRIET. And see, now its shifting the whole center to "romantic comedy". I hear alot of groans out there in TV land already. So its now "Mad (TV) About You" or what?

It should have been on HBO. It should have been tougher, played with angles like the Sopranos or Entourage have been able to in ensemble shows, and so on. The "romantic comedy" angle with an uninteresting Harriet, sure, THAT was the missing factor...sure.

so more ahead of the "You're pregnant by the guy who actually screwed me out of my movie career, but I love you and want you to know that I am now stalking you, although you're my boss" kind of romantic?

or is it the "I am doing this whole show singlehandedly, writing and creating each essence of it, solely because of the most important comedienne in network TV who requires such a platform, and we were once lovers..."

yeah, this should be a real improvement either way.

Anonymous said...

I'm a lowly, struggling writer myself with a comedy blog. I posted last week about a disastrous trip home for a funeral. In it, I jokingly compared myself to the Biblical Job, and I got a comment essentially telling me until I took a child off a respirator and watched it suffocate to death, I had no call to complain about anything.

Needless to say, it was a little frightening, and I chalked it up to a religious zealot of some sort. BUT I had a fairly well-publicized critique of "Studio 60" on my site a while back, and other commenters kept suggesting this "JOB" could be Sorkin. It seemed ridiculous to me until I read this entry.

I went back and forth with "JOB" for a while in the comments, and he did claim to be a working television writer. He also proved himself to be completely devoid of humor and took things WAY too seriously. Could it have been The Sork?

http://patrickwalsh.blog-city.com/fuckd.htm

TCinLA said...

You're too kind, Ken. That drug-addled halfwit could only be a success by being the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. OK. Hollywood is the land of the blind, so he's off to a good start.

The talentless idiot never learned the difference between a play and a screenplay. Just because he has actors who can walk down a hall spouting the stream of consciousness of Aaron Sorkin, rather than actual dialogue, doesn't mean he can actually write. In fact, it proves the opposite.

His show sucks. There is nothing about his illiterate show that is in any way even in the same universe with an actual television show (even the other ones he did). If I met any of those characters in real life, I would be hard pressed not to push them through a window, if we were at least five floors up and a fatality was guaranteed.

Aaron Sorkin's success proves the overall stupidity of most of Hollywood.

But, fortunately for you, Ken, in drama the hero is known by the quality of their opponent. In your case, your opponent is pretty low on all but one quality - celebrity - but he's sure doing a good job of making you better-known.

As I have been known to say to guys like Sorkin (I'd love to say this to his face): you have me confused with someone who cares what a halfwit says. You'll notice I didn't say "think" since that is an activity you obviously don't have the equipment for, and I refuse to fight an unarmed opponent further."

Patrick Walsh said...

I'm a lowly, struggling writer myself with a comedy blog. I posted last week about a disastrous trip home for a funeral. In it, I jokingly compared myself to the Biblical Job, and I got a comment essentially telling me until I took a child off a respirator and watched it suffocate to death, I had no call to complain about anything.

Needless to say, it was a little frightening, and I chalked it up to a religious zealot of some sort. BUT I had a fairly well-publicized critique of "Studio 60" on my site a while back, and other commenters kept suggesting this "JOB" could be Sorkin. It seemed ridiculous to me until I read this entry.

I went back and forth with "JOB" for a while in the comments, and he did claim to be a working television writer. He also proved himself to be completely devoid of humor and took things WAY too seriously. Could it have been The Sork?

Greg Morrow said...

I'll say this about Studio 60: It's not flawless by any means, but by the only reasonable criterion, it's an immense success: It plants my ass in the seat. I make sure that I'm in front of the television when it starts, and I watch it beginning to end without splitting my attention.

It's not Heroes, which I timeshift. It's not CSI or L&O, which I might watch if I'm not doing anything else.

I don't watch anything else the same way. It's an achievement.

David Schwartz said...

I love that Studio 60 is on the air. Yes, it's not nearly found its way yet, and yes, it can be overindulgent at times, but compared to the bulk of the drama shows out there, it's golden.

I think someone as talented as Aaron Sorkin is held to a higher standard, because he is the cream of the crop of television writers. People like Sorkin and David E. Kelley are amazingly prolific writers who week after week turn out entertaining, sometimes gripping dramatic television.

So, while I agree that Studio 60 is not yet as good as it hopefully will be, and the comedy is not yet as funny as hopefully it will become, personally, I'm grateful it's still on the air and also wish for its success. Even as a dip down from "West Wing" standards, it's still head and shoulders above almost anything else on the air.

And Ken, you have every right to feel however you feel about the show, and to parody it, and to question whether its comedy is on the mark. And there's nobody in this business who's proven himself more than you in being "funny" and as talented as they come!

Katie said...

Here's the new article:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/tv/la-spinoffs-studio6022jan22,1,4456755.story?coll=la-headlines-entnews

mainguy said...

Wow. Way to put your tail between your legs, Ken.

Anonymous said...

I agree with pretty much everything Baby Writer said. And honestly, as much as I agree with the politics being put forward by the show, and there is sometimes very witty rapid-fire dialogue built around it, it rings false. I could get the same political views, expressed in less sanctimonious tones, just from talking to my friends. I'd rather TV either put the ideas to me in a novel way, or sneak them in here and there around humor that actually makes me laugh. It hurts the show's credibility when characters on it have to pretend that a sketch called "Cheeses of Nazareth" is funny, and does nothing for the image of liberals as humorless do-gooders who wanna suck the fun out of everything.

Anonymous said...

I actually love the show, which is weird because I'm a non-working writer...

I do get what Sorkin is saying about the Internet though. You have all these weird people in Iadho who rant on about how they don't like the show and they get quoted in supposedly respectable papers and then people in turn don't tune in

I think the show, while definitely on the high-brow side, is great and not comparable to the parody of a show called 30 Rock.

- Allen

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether you are a "real" comedy writer or whether you are currently employed. I do know that I stopped watching Studio 60 after about the third episode. This past weekend they had a Marathon on Bravo and I tried watching again.

The word "smug" pretty much sums up the problem I'm having with this show. And do people really talk in that rhythm? Harriet (is anybody that age really named Harriet?) is not only not funny, she's not interesting and not anything else that makes me want to watch her. Nor is anybody else in the "cast".

On a more optimistic note, maybe Mr. Sorkin's apparent thin skin is because he is currently drug free.

Anonymous said...

But Allen,

Don't "the people" that don't tune in inclusive of the ranters in Idaho? As writers, we're working for these people, and the advertisers. Not ourselves.

Sorkin needs to lighten up, indeed.

Anonymous said...

"aren't the people...", bonehead.

LA Guy said...

To be sure Sorkin's dialogue may be an acquired taste but I also think he may suffer, probably unfairly, from comparisons to his past efforts.

I first became aware of the Sorkin 'style' when watching Sports Night which was, I thought, better than your average network fare but not exceptional. On the other hand I thought the first few years The West Wing was as good as anything that has ever been on television. At it's best it was brilliantly acted and thought provoking. To Sorkin's credit I thought they always took pains to portray both sides of an issue with sincerity and integrity in a way that can't have come easily to a liberal leaning writing staff.

I sometimes wonder why the Sorkin dialogue seemed so much more effective on The West Wing than Sports Night. Sports Night had a fine cast but West Wing, especially Martin Sheen, were phenomenal in delivering dialogue that in lesser hands may have sounded unbelievable.

Anyway my point is that anyone working in the creative arts who has a strong point of view is going to inevitably attract strong opinions and I'm sure it must be galling for him to have to answer to any hack with a blog when he's working his ass off to put the best show on that air that he can. Sure he may be a little thin skinned about the critiques, but we're lucky to have people like Sorkin around to occasionally try something different. They won't all be hits but at least they'll be original.

(By the way I'm not implying Ken Levine is a 'hack with a blog'.)

zazupitts said...

I wonder if Sorkin's pre-birth spirit wrote for the '60's TV show, Route 66, because I think I hear the same existential blather.

Viewing Studio 60 is like watching Bob Dylan lyrics set to dialogue. My head spins.

Some folks are intrigued by confusion, or maybe they're just mesmerized.

Route 66 lasted about four years; Studio 60, no more than that, but by then, Mr. S. will have done just fine, I'll predict.

"Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now." (Dylan)

See?

branfordbob said...

Since this debate started in September, I've said I like Studio 60...and I still do.

Are the comedy sketches funny? No, but they are incidental to the show. Is Studio 60 on par with The West Wing? No. Is it more on par with Sports Night? Yes. Let's remember...Sports Night was uneven as well, but was still one of the best shows on television at the time.

No matter which side of this debate you're on, there's one thing you have to acknowledge: nearly every time you talk about Studio 60 the comments on the blog increase substantially.

BOB

adaplant said...

FYI:

"...that guy..."

Morton Spurlock

Anonymous said...

Sorkin is an untalented hack with an enormous ego, a propensity to steal from other's work (example: "Network") and incredibly good luck in his career. And let's face it, good luck is the hardest commodity out here to get. And it rarely goes to the most talented. And it certainly didn't THIS time.

Anonymous said...

In fairness -- he steals from himself pretty regularly too.

:- )

ofthesun1 said...

Sorkin lost me in the third episode, when Harriet said "Black people have been openly black for over 400 years."

"Openly black?"

"Openly black?"

I'll pass.

and Mr. Levine, you're a genuis.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but it doesnt mean they know what they're talking about. This comment board does a nice job proving that...

- Allen

Tom Dougherty said...

I was still trying to make sense of his clumsy, broken Studio 60 show, but as of tonight, and as a direct result of reading his personal attack on your review of his program, I quit. Little prick! How DARE he!

That's a really good example of why his Studio 60 thing is so awful: he can't seem to understand television comedy and has disdain for those who do understand it.

When this, one of the season's most expensive new shows burns out (and it will happen soon) I hope you get a chance to honk your horn at him as you pass him on the street, standing there with his little "Will Smarm for Food" sign.

Tehanu said...

Apparently I'm the only fan of the show here. Maybe it's just because I've always been a sucker for Mary Backstage, Noble Wife-type shows. Steven Weber alone is worth the price of admission. So the show-within-the-show isn't very funny; has any of you watched "SNL" lately? "Cheeses of Nazareth" would be an improvement over what's on that.

And Ken: I loved AfterMASH! Honestly. Just getting to hang out a little longer with Sherman Potter was great.

Pianista en un Burdel said...

It's very kind of you writing this post to get things clear.

OK, now you guys shake your hands and go on getting laughs around the world.

walter10021 said...

Studio 60 is a great show -- and it sounds like Aaron Sorkin is a shit. So, what else is new?

Anonymous said...

I watch Studio 60 religiously. And I laugh during the entire episode, each episode. I really don't like to miss it.

Of course, I'm laughing at how Sorkin caricatures Christians and conservatives -- making them such beautiful strawmen -- and how he thinks he's making liberals look good when he really makes them seem totally out of touch and idiotic. Last night's faux-tension between the Black writer and Black actor was cringe-inducingly hilarious. ONLY SORKIN COULD WRITE THIS SHIT.

There is NOTHING believable about the show, and I love it. It's really very funny. Just not in the way Sorkin intends.

Mollie

Clint said...

I actually like Studio 60... I did notice that the sketches weren't funny but since it was a SNL like show I thought that was deliberate?

Magge McCann said...

I could not think of anything harder to do than to come up with stellar dialogue week after week. But when you are passionate about a project, you start to fall in love with the agony of the process. Personally, I feel Mr. Sorkin is not at all in love with this show or the process- it has more of the feeling that he "had to" write this to keep his name and credability going. Or it may simply be a case of Sorkintheism... he believes he is the sole creative source of all relevant TV shows.

I do agree that this would have been better on BRAVO where it would have the chance to develop into a smart piece of television theater.

Comparing it to 30 Rock really isn't fair either as that show is more of a parody (and a damned funny one, up to and including placement of every GE product known to humanity).

My bottom line is this: Writing for a living is hard - it's subject to the whims and vagaries of everyone - editor, studio heads, "stars", focus groups, the viewing public et al. But whatever you write, you try to maintain a certain amount of integrity and pride in your product (sadly, not always possible when the rent is due). I think AS needs to get back to why he became a writer in the first place and get over the fact that he is not a Mamet or a Shepherd. He writes for the masses. Sometimes well. Sometimes not.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody listened to the podcast at TV Barn? It's great!

It's the actual interview with Sorkin--and he would like you to know that it's the smart, rich people with TIVOs who really enjoy his show.

That made me think. Hey, why doesn't Ken do a podcast? It would be hilarious! And during baseball season, he can podcast some games--that would be fun too.

I don't happen to enjoy Studio 60, but Ken, I'd TIVO your podcasts! And I hope you don't mind having a poor dumb schmuck like me as a fan.

susan said...

For a while I thought the whole show was an inside joke: I thought the show was about guys who thought they were making a brilliant show but the "joke" was on them because the audience could tell how asinine they were. My favorite one was when they had Sting playing the lute. I could see these guys thinking oh "Sting on the Lute" -we're so trendy and cool. When the reality is, not. Their lack of awareness of how ridiculous they are in making this show and how far they are from what is happening today, currently in world culture, well, I thought that was the intent.

Someone explained to me that the show was never promoted as "these two guys come back to make a show that might have been funny years ago when they used to work there...they don't understand that the world move forward at a lightning pace and, still thinking they are in the old days, they earnestly work hard to create what they think is cool." God, that would be a funny show. And this show is funny when you look at it this way.

I do love it that Sorkin doesn't mind being a shallow snob. I hear him talking about money and the smart people. (and we all know that money = smart. hehe Most of the wealthy people I know inherited their money and got rich because of an up market and real estate values. My rich tech friends are exceptionally smart and I don't think they give a damn about this show or Sorkin. )

I don't hear him talking about "art" - they way I do people like Phillip Seymour Hoffman (yes, I know he isn't a writer but he is the best example I could think of.) Sorkin may care about craft but I don't see his passion for creating art.

susan said...

Sorry to post twice in a row, but I just thought "what if Sorkin made an effort to respect and encourage young writers just starting out?" He must know how difficult it is to get work as a writer and he must know that their are more writers than their are shows...so why is he so harsh and dismissive?

I think that may be part of the problem of this show, it lacks a generous heart. And also Harriet is terrible, just awful.

Anonymous said...

How about the way they "jammed" Harriet's Dolphin Girl in the room like that last night -- they're simply the most brilliant writers in the business! If only Amy Poehler or Maya Rudolph ahd a character like Dolphin Girl, they'd be huge huge stars.

Dolphin Girl! I hope Sorkin isn't back on the pipe, coming up with carzy shit like that.

Anonymous said...

Ken, thanks for your grown-up approach to this tempest.

It seems like Sorkin is a pretty thin-skinned sort of chap. Alas. Say a prayer for him tonight, everyone.

As to the show, yes, Harriet is uninteresting and poorly developed (a super-talented signer/comedienne... who can't tell a joke). And it does get smug and lecturey.

But Studio 60 is a funny, enjoyable show. Matthew Perry is great as a semi-assholish kind of guy, and it's better than the vast bulk of everything else on network tv.

Oh, and Ken, shouldn't it be "inserting" or "insinuating" itself, rather than "exerting" itself?

Anonymous said...

I know someone who was fired from a Sorkin show for having a blog.

The man has a serious god complex. And I'm not into his religion.

I'm still trying to figure out how a "Saturday Night Live" type show is supposed to save the world.

I just don't find it interesting at all. The characters ARE smug. The writing is all self important.

Herb Popsfarter said...

Ken,

as far as I know you never said you hated Sorkin on any of your blogs.

Many of us (your readers) did.

You're criticisms were fair comment, and if he "can't handle the truth" maybe he should be given a code red. (snicker)

He needs to smell the coffee. The show ain't that good. And that's a fact, whether you're employed or not.

dcalfine said...

Watching a Sorkin show is like having diarrhea. In so many ways.

Anonymous said...

"that guy" = Morgan Spurlock.

susan said...

I've been thinking about the comments that this show is better than most of what is on TV. I don't watch that much TV so I will take people's word for that.

If Studio 60 is better than most stuff on TV, is that a reason for people to watch it, even though they find it smug, preachy and miscast? Should people spend an hour of their time for a few minutes of good stuff from an actor they admire?

For me, it isn't enough. Like most of the American viewing audience I have many other ways to spend my free time. For me, the question isn't "is this better than something else I could be watching?" but more "what could I be doing instead?"

I have another question as well, why is no one talking about The Unit which is written by David Mamet? Isn't he a famous writer too? I don't understand why Sorkin gets so much attention as opposed to Mamet. Maybe I haven't noticed the Mamet coverage because the TV website that I follow isn't recapping that show.

John Eje Thelin said...

"SNL isn't all that funny either." Oooh, burn! (and what an original line - it's been a constant refrain since about 1980, folks)

That's not the point (even though this weekend's Piven-led episode was one of the best in years), but SNL's sketches can and do get a studio audience to laugh - no matter what people think of its actual quality. Almost nothing I've seen of the material presented on S60 would do that. See the sitcom on Extras; it's crappy, but 100% believable as something a certain audience would laugh at.

You know, all that apart from the smug shallowness of the rest of the writing; people praising Sorkin's work as superior intellectual drama is akin to Kenny G fans spouting off about the superiority of Jazz.

And there's plenty of much betetr Tv out there, from BSG, The Shield, The Wire and Rome to 30 Rock (which despite its broad strokes and absurdity manages to be ten times a believable as SSotSS).

But do I keep watching SSotSS? Hell, yeah - if nothing else because it makes me feel like a frickin' genius.

Anonymous said...

"...people praising Sorkin's work as superior intellectual drama is akin to Kenny G fans spouting off about the superiority of Jazz...."

I think you may be a frickin' genius, if only for the entirely apt comment above.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

So far no one has said that ANYTHING that ANYONE syas to a journalist is not to be taken as his opinion, but as a reaction to a baiting question. And usually misquoted.

If any profession needs a Sorkin series it's the Third Estate.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I thought your parody of Sorkin was fantastic, and I came to it as a huge fan of Sorkin. I still am. Watch Studio 60 every week. But, there is something missing. It still has humour, just as West Wing, but it seems like both Whitford and Perry are both playing Josh Lyman. And, I don't know if even I'm ready for two Lymans in this world. But, anytime either one says the "josh" line I instantly hear it in the other's voice too. Scary.

But while the show has humour, it's not funny. And by setting in the "SNL" world we expect funny too.

What Sorkin should do is hire you for the funny.

Like I said, the baseball parody was the best "Sorkin" I had read since his days on West Wing. I wanted to see the rest of the show!

Batocchio said...

Like you, I'm fan of Sorkin's work, and I want Studio 60 to succeed, but there's no denying the show's flawed, for the reasons folks always mention: the possibly fatal casting of Sarah Paulson, the lack of comedy in a backstage show about a comedy (not that I think it could sustain the level of Laughter on 23rd Floor or that that style would completely fit it). I love snappy patter, I like most of the actors, and even with its flaws, I find Studio 60 more interesting than most other shows. However, when he was doing The West Wing, Sorkin claims he said he didn't want it to be an "eat your broccoli show," and wanted it to be effective entertainment first and foremost (although it was often thought-provoking). With Studio 60, I often feel I'm hearing the same old red state-blue state conversation over and over again, without The West Wing's degree of wit and lacking most of all its playfulness - I'm hearing Sorkin's personal peeves, not his delight. I'm tasting the broccoli.

(By the way, the draft I've read by Sorkin for the feature Charlie Wilson's War was very engaging, showed some very clever writing, and the announced cast looked pretty good. I'm interested in reading the book to gain insight into what specifically he adapted and how – I'm always interested in how writers crack certain obstacles. ;-) )

Lesley said...

WHO TALKS LIKE SORKIN'S CHARACTERS? I'm sorry for the allcaps, but seriously, nobody, much less an entire community, can manage witty repartee 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Like the West Wing, Studio 60's characters always have the perfect rapid-fire come back for every rapid-fire come back. These pretentious self-absorbed boobs never miss a beat.

pseudonymous in nc said...

To me, 30 Rock captures something much closer to the essence of the writing room while being a fun, silly sitcom. But 30 Rock could be more easily retooled as drama than Studio 60 as rom-com.

I'm with those who think that there's good television to be made out of the situation: the process of writing on inexorable deadline within the limits the network sets, even though the instinctive reaction to that pressure, at 4am before dress, is to write a sketch that's beyond the vulgarity and controversy threshold of HBO while insulting their co-writers in every way imaginable.

(Those who say it should have been on HBO? You have a point. But Larry Sanders went too close to that territory. I think it's more interesting to work within the limits while suggesting the stuff beyond.)

Plenty of TWoPers made the right point early on: why should we care about this show?

Anonymous said...

Ken, some of the greatest moments of TV comedy were on Frasier.

I always find a Sorkin show interesting, but I'm always flummoxed when people say they love his dialogue (esp on Sports Night). Sometimes I wonder if these people (who are often the same as those who praise David Mamet's dialogue) don't hear the way I hear. That sort of rat-a-tat-tat interplay doesn't sound authentic, and neither does the lecture. I think what some writers forget is that everyone who speaks English is an expert in English converstation-- we've been hearing it all our lives, and we can tell if it sounds wrong.

One of the amazing things about Frasier is how fairly complex information would be exchanged in conversations that sounded true to the characters. The wine talk of Frasier and Niles... always exactly the way they'd talk. And when they were in the auto mechanics class... I mean, they talked exactly like two effete fellas would talk in a auto mechanics class. :)

Anyway, I find Sorkin interesting... but as someone mentioned, he sounds more like he's writing for theater than TV. TV is so intimate a medium that we need even the most unlikely characters (Niles Crane? :) to "feel" right to us. Not that they need to feel LIKE us, but we need to believe that if such people existed, they'd be like this.

Anonymous said...

I've tried watching Studio 60 twice, and neither time could watch more than 6 minutes of the show. None of the characters sound real, and Sorkin writes as though it was the 1970's or something, and there was a host of mediocre shows on TV. Doesn't he realize how much better and more diverse the TV landscape is than it was say when Network came on the air? If he did, then perhaps it would make his criticism of the crap that's on TV sound more pertinent. Of course, if he were to acknowledge how much more exciting TV is now it would mean that there might be someone on TV who was talented other than Mr Sorkin.

The sad thing is when you look at shows like Studio 60, you understand a bit better why the networks might want to keep a tighter grip on their shows at least until they become hits. It's hard to imagine the networks screwing up the show anymore than it is already. (That doesn't mean networks should be maintaining such a grip on their shows, only when you look at disasters like Studio 60, you understand why they want so much control.)

Anonymous said...

Very late comment, but I just want to say this:
The West Wing, when sorkin was writing practically EVERY episode (look it up, folks), will go down in history as one of the best shows of all time, no doubt about it.

That being said, Studio 60 just.did.not.work.
Perry and whitford were very good, but everyone else was completely miscast.
People are extremely jealous of Sorkin, and yes, S60 was pretty bad, but his four years on TWW are nothing but extraordinary.

Greg said...

I think Sorkin may have gained some respect for comedy writers in general and sketch writers in particular after this debacle. He writes light drama, not hard comedy and it's not as easy as it seems. At least he couldn't do it. His sketches were worse than bad SNL sketches, and supposedly written by a comedy genius.

huda said...

WHO TALKS LIKE SORKIN'S CHARACTERS? I'm sorry for the allcaps, but seriously, nobody, much less an entire community, can manage witty repartee 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Like the West Wing, Studio 60's characters always have the perfect rapid-fire come back for every rapid-fire come back. These pretentious self-absorbed boobs never miss a beat.