Drug busts or no, cancelled series or no, fake blogs or no, Aaron Sorkin is, for my money, still the best writer in television. The fake blog part we’ll get to in a minute, but let’s just start with how good Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is. It is the kind of project everyone wants to see fail.
It didn’t start with a lot of hype, unless you were incessantly reading television news online. The pilot episode has a few good men from The West Wing, most notably, Bradley Whitford and executive producer Thomas Schlamme. Matthew Perry brings some heft to his role now that he’s free from Chandler on Friends. Perry and Whitford play a writing team brought in to save a sinking ship. The television show they’re hired on is like Saturday Night Live on the eve of the show’s producer going nuts and saying way too much on air.
A hotshot young producer (Amanda Peet) is brought in to rescue the long-running show, and in so doing brings back two of the show’s writers who quit once before. They quit for the same reason the producer went nuts: because they were being forced to bow to pressure to cut a sketch that made fun of Christians.
You know because it’s Sorkin there is no way the show wouldn’t be political. It looks like this format will enable the brilliantly talented writer to comment on our culture’s relationship to television, how it’s changed, how it continues to change. There isn’t another show on TV right now that goes there.
The show’s publicity department came up with a bright idea to start a fake blog called “Defaker.” According to the LA Times, “Defaker” (which has now been pulled from the web) was used instead to generate angry feedback from Internet users who didn’t like the stunt in the least. It was written to be a fictional blog by someone who really watches Studio 60 and believes it has gone downhill. The postings were enough to end the blog, however, particularly once the website it was based on, Defamer.com, got wind of it.
Faking information onto the web is a tricky proposition. You’re dealing with the smartest and geekiest among us – particularly those who hate the fact that corporations are slowly trying to take over what was once the wild, wild web. Not only that, but it’s become like a treasure hunt these days to suss out who might really be behind something that suddenly appears on the web out of nowhere.
Nonetheless, that is only one element of the show. And people are really mean, folks. Especially in an anonymous world where you don’t necessarily think there is really a person on the other end of it. Add to that our distasteful indulgence of wanting to see people take a fall, and you have a recipe for disaster, or failure as the case may be.
Can Studio 60 survive? Will there be enough of an audience? Will they be turned off by the “us and them” subject matter? Maybe Americans like their entertainment but don’t want to know where it’s coming from; TV is such a dirty business behind the scenes it makes your viewing pleasure slightly less of an escape from reality. And then there’s the actual subject matter. Sorkin creates richly complicated characters who are hardly perfect. Spending time with them is as unpredictable as a desert storm.
Even the most popular shows like Lost, 24 and Grey’s Anatomy on network television are somehow lacking in the character department. Plot seems to matter more than anything else. This is especially true on reality shows. But Sorkin is an old school writer – someone who could have written great scripts in any decade. His stuff is high grade and rare. Nobody does it better.
Studio 60 airs Monday nights at 10pm on NBC, www.nbc.com/Studio_60_on_the_Sunset_Strip.