Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Studio 60/the Class

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.


Anonymous said...

Ah - another slam against Bush. Hate to tell you this, but name calling is a sign of low intelligence. Perhaps you're a bit insecure about your own brainpower, or possibly lack thereof?

By Ken Levine said...

Ah, another gutless person unwilling to leave his name. Yes, I hate Bush. More slams to come at any time. Get used to them or please visit Ann Coulter's website. I'm sure you'll be happier.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, after I watched Studio 60 I said aloud, "I can't wait to see what Ken Levine writes about this on his blog." Yeah, if only one-word descriptions are allowed, "inside" pretty much covers it.

Part of the problem, insofar as there is a problem, is that NBC was billing this as some rollicking knee-slapper comedy. and maybe it'll land there. But as for the pilot, and come on, how often do pilots really capture the essence of the show? Except Lost, of course, proving my point. I took this as the setup episode so we all know who's who and why we care. I'll be interested to see a) the next episode and b) how long NBC hangs with it.

Thanks for the review.

ceastwood said...

Ken L... I like your blog. I got to it via via the wga site via this morning's demo at Pan Pacific Park.

I'll be back!

-chrisanne eastwood

BrianScully said...

I watched "Studio 60"... well, I watched 30 minutes of it and then shut it off... and I'm IN the damn industry. I can't imagine any hard-working smart people in regular America tuning into something that self-indulgent. I watched "West Wing" mainly because of the brilliant performances of Martin Sheen and John Spencer, but honestly, I often fast-forwarded through scenes they weren't in because ALL of Aaron Sorkin's characters sound exactly the same. I wonder if you took the character names off their dialog, if you could tell who was one-upping who in one of their many too-witty for Washington runs. I respect Aaron Sorkin's success... and I'm all for the studios and networks lavishing tons of money on ANY writer... but I have always felt like Aaron Sorkin was sort of a cautionary tale along the lines of "The Emperor Has No Clothes"... maybe I'm the only one. But again, I respect his success and can't really ever hope to match it. And I also respect that he writes what he WANTS to write; he's not just trying to sell any premise for a buck. I just wish his characters didn't all sound the same.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy this blog too with so many great things to learn and absorb. And like many, I'm not a fan of our domestic policies or border concerns. But I'm also tiring of the 'dumb' references, especially as they're directed at someone who, like it or not, is a Yale grad with a Harvard M.B.A. Ken, you... many others... you're the exception as you're intelligent and articulate. But when high school dropouts such as Cher (and other A-listers) start attacking on the basis of intelligence, truthfully... it doesn't carry much weight. Reading scripts all day is not the same as spending time with Intel and cabinet members.

Anyway, wasn't there some story that confirmed Bush graduated with higher scores than Kerry? More importantly, shouldn't people vote for who they want to vote for? Judging people for their political views is just another form of bias. Selection.

The Huffington Post is a great site, and numerous conservative sites provide a good alternative balance. It's good to read from all perspectives. There's just too much on the web to ignore.

Richard Cooper said...

We liked Studio 60, although this first episode seemed to get bogged down in the set up. Now that it's set up, however, I hope they get down to the real show.

branfordbob said...

I loved Studio 60 as much as I'd hoped when I read the early draft of the pilot script that's been floating around. Even knowing 80% of what was coming, I still enjoyed seeing the script brought to life.

I agree it is "inside" and may not have the broad appeal of the premise of "West Wing".

I disagree with brianscully who called it self-indulgent. That would apply if it wound up being of interest only to the author... clearly not the case, even if 2.5 million went that-a-way.

As for Richard saying Studio 60 got bogged down in the can you avoid some degree of that when you're introducing a dozen or so characters in 46 minutes?

I'd love to hear you revisit the show a few weeks dow the road, Ken.


Anonymous said...

Well, as I see it, part of the appeal of a show like STUDIO 60, and WEST WING as well, is the insideness of it, taking a look into the workings of a world the viewer isn't normally privy to, so yes, it's inside, but that may actually be a plus.
I watched THE CLASS expecting to hate it, and was surprised that I laughed at 4 jokes over the course of the half-hour, along with being amused by Sam Harris being passed off as a twentysomething. He was winning STAR SEARCH about the time the other characters were learning to walk. I will watch both shows a second time.
And keep right on Bush-bashing. I laughed harder at Hollywood Blonde's idea that Bush's bought-and-paid-for-but-not-earned Yale degree means he's smart than I did at either show's gags. We're supposed to believe in Bush's Yale degree as earned? How? If you can really earn a Yale degree and still display the basic ignorance even of the English language, let alone science and world affairs as Bush regularly does, then a Yale degree is truly meaningless. Getting a meaningful Yale degree involves actually attending class. Paying someone smart to do your homework, and getting a degree because daddy bought the school a new wing doesn’t make you "smart".
Hollywood Blonde asked, "shouldn't people vote for who they want to vote for? Judging people for their political views is just another form of bias."
Who DOESN'T vote for who they want to? But yes, when I vote, I judge the candidate for their political views. I judge negatively persons whose political views get people killed all around the world, throw the economy in the toilet, rapes the environment, and allows America to be attacked while leaving the man who did it still at large after 5 years. I am biased.
You know, judging people by merit is just another form of bias.

Anonymous said...

Um... Master? I'm kinda thinking that admitting you laughed at ANYTHING on The Class sort of cancels out your commentary on Bush's "stupidity."

Personally, after having gone to college myself, if, as you said, Bush was clever enough to get through Harvard and Yale by lying and cheating and all the other things you say he did -- and never get caught -- then I'd say he's smart enough to run the country for a few years!

Plus, I'll bet HE knows what the definition of "is" is (sorry, Bubba!)

Anonymous said...

I didn't watch either (I live outside the US) but I have thought, actually much more since starting to read your blog, that someone ought to come up with an inside series about comedy writers. Your own blog gives creedence to the thought, how popular and interesting most of us outsiders find the process to be.
Another thing, you mention how people don't like to hear that "audiences are dumb", but I disagree...I think the trick is to get the viewer to thinking THEY are on the inside too, and the "dumb audiences" are all those others out there.

Lots of series do that.

Anonymous said...

Having had the experience of toiling on and off in Hollywood for almost 10 years, I didn't watch STUDIO 60, maybe due to the fact that everything "inside" that the show is supposed to give us a sneak peek of, I would probably be making value judgements on(or maybe it was just the fear of dredging up old feelings of insecurity). But I did watch THE CLASS, (not quite sure what to expect -- THE BIG CHILL for Gen X?), and when I saw that the pilot was written by Crane and Klarik, and directed by Jim Burrows, I was expecting a decent takeoff. -- You're right, Ken. The premise was not quite believable, the laughs didn't seem to be there, the characters weren't all that sympathetic or identifiable (and BTW, I'm still trying to figure out what the hell the common attraction is for all the characters in HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER). Hopefully, with several months having elapsed between the pilot and the fall filming, they've been able to bring everything up a notch or two in subsequent scripts.

Anonymous said...

I watched Studio 60. I enjoyed Studio 60. My first thought; I was amazed and pleased that the dialogue pacing was not the same as West Wing and Sports Night. Each character's voice was quite distinct... at least I thought so.. and, just like Ethan, my next thought, "I wonder what Ken will say about his in his blog!" I need a life.
(PS: Greg, don't forget, Bubba was a Rhodes scholar!)

Alex Epstein said...

Lots more of this argument (the one about Sorkin, not the one about Bush) on my blog:


and on Denis's blog:



Emily Blake said...

Amen on The Class. I blogged about my deep hatred of it the other day.

But I think you're selling the audience shot on Studio 60. People like to feel like they're inside. It makes them feel smart, like they're seeing some kind of secret window into a culture they've often wondered about. And everybody watches TV, so the idea of seeing how it's made appeals to a lot of people.

There was once a show about comedy writers from the inside. It was Dick Van Dyke and it was excellent. And people got it. And it made everybody feel like they got a peek into how sitcoms are made.

Anonymous said...

Bush's bought-and-paid-for-but-not-earned Yale degree

To master. When it comes to favoritism, nepotism and elitism, Hollywood has Washington beat, hands-down.

The legacy standard is in effect at many schools, in addition to minority enrollment.

And today, neither mainstream party is doing well at representing the core beliefs of their constituents. Most politicians are interchangeable. Let off steam and call someone dumb, but it's only a quick grab at trying to voice a real complaint. It's cheap and easy, whether it's Bush at Ivy League or Teddy Kennedy cheating his way through Harvard.

Anonymous said...

and still display the basic ignorance even of the English language

Have to laugh... makes me think of Sam Goldwyn. No dummy, that one. Sharp as a whip.

Anonymous said...

This is way off-topic but... my husband has an MIT degree in nuclear engineering, not bought and paid for by Daddy's money, believe me (I know, because we're still paying off the student loans)... That said, his grasp of the English language is... well, awful. His writing, grammer and spelling is atrocious and he can't get three words out without an "uhm" in between.

That said, he is the most brilliant man I've ever met. And I'm not just saying that because I sleep with him. I sleep with him, in fact, because I believe that.

So, Bush or no Bush, being articulate is one sign of intelligence, but its not the whereall endall.

Anonymous said...

How long will they continue to use this stupid gimmick of WALKING while talking? Apparently one can't have a conversation unless walking down corridors, making a right, making a left. Wow! It started with Hill St. Blues, I think, then West Wing and now Studio 60. I, for one, am SO tired of it. Love your blog Ken, can't recall how I stumbled upon it, but I must start my day with it.

Anonymous said...

I have a son who is a freshman in a private college in TX and a daughter who is a senior in high school (gearing up for college). I recently read that Ivy League classes are not more difficult than classes at any other college or university. It is harder to get into Ivy League schools - that's where daddy's money comes in handy. To me a Yale or Harvard degree should not be valued higher than any accredited state university.


Anonymous said...

There's nepostism in Hollywood, therefore Bush's fake education is valid, and he isn't an evil puppet of the extreme right, murdering people around the globe, raping the environment, and still unable or unwilling to catch Osama? (Daddy is, after all, in business with the Bin Laden Family.)I fail to see how the nepositsm in Hollywood excuses Bush for anything. Nor do the sins of Teddy Kennedy excuse Bush for anything. And I wouldn't vote for Sam Goldwyn to run the country either. However Alina's points are extremely well-taken.

Anonymous said...

"Nepositsm" ? Yikes! Now it looks my college education is fake as well.

Anonymous said...

I think the real point is that Ken has this blog and he pays the electric bill every month. I'd say he hates Bush, but imagine what a comedy writer could do with that.

Anonymous said...

Of course, we will REALLY get to see what Sorkin is made of when facing the issue of Amanda Peet when she is great with child (something one never had to deal with when your lead character was the President).

Anonymous said...

Gosh, all I was going to do was chime in with a "so how do I get my ass kicked by a bunch of models with briefcases?" Come to find that you hollywood types are Serious People debating non-model bush.

Eh well, glad I tracked you down Levine. You still owe us for big wave dave.

Anonymous said...

Amanda Peet? Sorry, not acting, but one ongoing re-use of few gestures she learned to employ for everything possible: Sideways glance one direction, then sideways glance the other (variant - sudden turn to glance over her shoulder and back with some "thought") eyes set to "intensity" as if like looking at someones skin for pores, and - the important one - constantly smirking.

I think "inside" is too easy for dismissing Studio60. Like, what, the Korean war was open to all to understand? Or a Mafia family?

TV / Celebrity is closer to Politics than not. And what about the success of such shows as Larry Sanders - which I use to just bring me to the point, it aint the show, its the choice of network.

The West Wing was popular because it fantasized what at least half of the U.S. actually WANTED - a real (Democrat) President that cared, could do things, a younger generation in politics who we could imagine possible to believe in, etc. and Lily Tomlin for gods sake! It could transmit ideological fantasyland in a time of dire requirement for one. Parallel World.

Studio 60? If it only refers to Saturday Nite live, sure, too inside. But anyway it belongs on HBO. Period. Allow it to find an audience there while it steps "outside" of the Legacy networks logic, to then comment on them more freely.

And HBO could use some shot in the arm as well. It had Larry Sanders, a much more subtle - and comedy at that - work than anything Studio60 will aspire to, but the match could have worked.

As for the characters - sorry, but Peet again - is unbelievable ("I want to thank the caterers"... WHAT!? obviously she is doing the drugs at that exclusive party) and her character is a pivotal role apparently. Get someone real and it would have worked. THAT is what made West Wing casting possible to watch. Peet is no exec. At least TAKE OFF YOUR COAT.

As script/cast, we get it - maybe its the pilot, but so many characters basically telegraphed what they will "stand for", in case the dumb network audience cant grasp it. And did it TWICE in case one missed it the first time.

Studio 60 was great, and should work, but if it doesnt work it sort of proves its point at the same time - the Legacy networks are not capable any longer of really delivering something and investing in it.

Best ending? The show fails after six episodes, and is picked up by HBO to do it right.

Anonymous said...

I love it when people take Bush insults personally.

Whaledawg said...

What NBC didn't consider was the fact that even The West Wing never had great numbers. The West Wing was only on the air because they sold it as the way to reach a rich, liberal audience (the liberal part wasn't sought after, but that's how it worked out).

They had a point, educated and wealthy people don't traditionaly watch a lot of network TV so it was a good way to reach that group. Did you ever notice how many Lexus commercials were on The West Wing?

But those limousine liberals were really into the idea of that show. They liked the concept of this ideal liberal president and his smart crew fighting the good fight every week. They aren't interested in TV fighting the good fight. They don't think it can be a tool for educating people, as the premise of Studio 60 states (and I have to agree with them).

And for anyone who thinks for a second there is a chance this show may attract a mainstream audience, all I have to say is they broke up because she went on the 700 club. To anyone outside of Hollywood that's simply insane. You're just going to have a real hard time selling a world where that makes sense to anyone who lives in America between the coasts.

Regarding the walking/talking shots:
It's kind of a cheat. Any scene you write should have the characters doing something. Two people standing there talking is boring. Having them walking is a way of making it more visually interesting, more dynamic and at the same time you don't have to put any more effort into the writing.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree with some previous posters and say that The West Wing was about as inside as it gets. There were certainly times people didn't know what the heck was going on on that show politically, but still tuned in for the good story, acting, and dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Walking when talking is a cheat., It's eye-candy directors can fall back on when nothing interesting is going on. Too many directors are moving the camera too damn much. You can get seesick (intended) watching some shows where the directors are showing off and getting in the way of the story (or covering if there isn't one).

I saw "My Dinner with Andre') 3 times. It was, and still is, an interesting conversation.

Dwacon said...

Ken, I like your closing point about us unknown guys getting a shot. Sometimes it feels we couldn't get read if we wrote it on a billboard over the Santa Monica Expressway. I didn't get to see Studio 60 and only saw Class because Tivo had it as a commercial-free feature. I thought it had funny moments, but I will likely choose to tune into the incredulous drama of Fox's Prison Break... so won't see the Class unless they last long enough to go into summer reruns.

Anonymous said...

thought studio 60 was great. Plus 19 million aint so bad.

class was mediocre at best. I'll give it one more episode.

- Allen

Anonymous said...

Friends was not 'the first show with no “grown up” authority figures.' That was The Monkees, all those decades ago. And it seems like others are having the same thoughts about Studio 60 as am I: the West Wing was about the freakin' presidency. Studio 60 is about television. Who really cares?

Anonymous said...

Racism on the Class?
1. Yearbook/class photo has a couple of black kids in it, but none on the show...?
2. Opening scene 2nd week... big laugh is nurse's one of them funny accents.
Result: Deleted show from my TiVo.

P.S.: Studio 60 does not have the gravitas of west wing, but heck I loved SportNight. Will stick around. Heroes better than I thought it would be, by the way. And they don't use foreign accents as the basis to generate laughs.

James W. Pharo said...

Two thoughts on the actual topic:
1. I think one of the problems of Studio 60 is not it's insider-ness of the lack of gravitas inherent in a show about show biz. For me, the elephant in the living room is that it's a show about comedy that isn't funny enough. All of these wacky comics and writers and none of them all all that funny. Did anyone think the big G&S song and dance number was all that funny? Aren't these guys supposed to be the essence of funny? Not, say, the essence of sincere, or flippant, or somewhat snarky?
2. I can't stand the lingering shots of Amanda Peete and Matt Perry after the other has left. It's too 3d grade. We all know there is going to be sexual/romantic tension with Amanda -- that's why she's so hot for heaven's sake. It's almost like a thought bubble should appear -- "Hey, he's really interesting/Hey, she's really interesting."


Anonymous said...

"Unless it's going to incite terrorists, who gives a shit?"

Well, wasn't the point that the CC sketch would incite terrorists of the Falwell, Robertson, Dobson variety?

James White said...

Studio 60: I'm one of the flyover people. I'm not involved in the industry. And I did like this show. It *may* be insider, but in the same way His Girl Friday may be considered (considering the time!). I like the density of each scene. There was something happening in each plane as you looked into the screen. Sometimes it was just moss, like in the alley when people across the street got into their car. Or walking across the set. It kind of reminds me what scifi prop designers do with adding nondescript bumps and bulges to spaceships. Also, little things like the Chomsky quote over the clock (ok, Groucho, or some Japanese guy, but the connection was Chomsky because of language - and Groucho because of, well, language). That's not insider that's smart. Although the reference to Paley might have been...

Anonymous said...

I was a lifelong goper, until Bush. I thought Clinton was the epitome of the sleazy southern pol - and he is!

But Bush is such a caricature of all that offends me that I done with national politics until the parties self destruct. I voted Perot Perot Buchanan - but I'm pro choice.

As to Studio 60 - I loved it. I watched two episodes now - and find myself enjoying more network television than ever. I am hooked on Medium, House, So You Think you can Dance [my daughter competes in ballroom dance] and now Studio 60.

I won't waste 3 minutes on something like the Class. I hated Friends - and saw Frazier only occasionally - although I've read all three of Joe Keenans terrific novels -- when are we going to see Gilbert, Philip and Claire on the big screen?

I hope I added a little something to the demographic mix here... I am a 58 year old female entrepreneur, some college, 3 kids.

The only reality TV I have ever liked were the Ballroom Dance shows - because 3 generations can all watch and enjoy together.

I hope that if writers see these comments they might understand a little more about who lives in fly over country.

I never watched the West Wing because I found it too preachy, and self absorbed. The

Anonymous said...

Where has Ken gone? Is he vacationing in Bermuda where they have the shorts of the same name?

He better not have quit blogging because of you anonymous Bushlovers because the liberals will rise up, sometime after noon of course, and crush you into mush like organic tofu!

Newscoma said...

I liked Studio 60.
I enjoyed its fast pace and the fact that it didn't dumb down its audience.
So what if it was "inside" because I may be a hick girl from Tennessee, but ... umm ... I got it.
I have watched both episodes and I dug it.

Incidentally, first time here. I like it too.

Anonymous said...


Garsh, I hope my readin' box on this here computer said things right. Since I live between the coasts, I'm not really able to understand what you're saying.

I wish I could move to one of them coasts so I could make a visit to the 700 Club. Does it have one of them rope lines?

Maybe you could educate this dumb hick midwesterner about these things.

CalifSherry said...

I'm way late to this blog, but count me as a Studio 60 fan. And I like the "insider" feel of it. It's clever and sometimes, I've watched again from the NBC website. However, I wish it were easier to figure out when the show airs and when and where it's repeated.