Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

Sunset on Studio 60?

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article on NBC's new drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The title? "Can a TV Show With Dream Viewers But Low Ratings Survive? Stay Tuned." The theme of the piece is that the show attracts highly-educated, upper income viewers, which is good, but not many others, which is bad. Since the premier, the ratings have fallen each week. Without the original commitment to 13 episodes and the huge financial investment, many think the show would have already been cancelled.

I haven't written anything about the show, mostly because I was waiting for it to get better. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.

As most of you know, I love the work of the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin. His previous shows, Sports Night and The West Wing, are two of my all-time favorites. I had very high hopes for Studio 60, but it's been a disappointment so far.

The article mentions one possible problem - the stakes are very low. Compared to presidential politics or the numerous crime and medical dramas, the survival of a late-night sketch comedy show lacks much urgency or sense of importance. However, Sports Night was dedicated to something arguably of even less importance, a sports highlight show, yet still captured my interest (although, admittedly, not many others).

I think the problem is that Studio 60 is simply full of itself. It's a television show dedicated to the idea that television plays a huge role in shaping popular culture and opinion, at the exact moment when most have come to the conclusion that it doesn't. The show is a bit of time-warp, insisting that the whole country holds its breath to see what cutting-edge, politically incorrect witticisms will change public opinion this weekend.

The characters, we're told, are incredibly talented and the best in the business, but there is no proof of this, we're just supposed to take their word for it. There is an overall assumption that we care about these people and the show, without giving us any reasons to care.

Combine all of this with Sorkin's love for the soapbox (my favorite was when he used his own show to defend his past drug problems - a character with a cocaine addiction argued his moral superiority to someone who drove drunk one time), I just can't find anything truly captivating.

The writing is intelligent and clever, as always, but there is so little about these people to like. There's is hardly anything about the show that I would call sweet, inspiring, or self-effacing, all of which were common elements in both Sports Night and The West Wing. The conventional wisdom is that critics and high-minded people everywhere think the show is first-rate - the only thing needed is to broaden the audience to include, well, lesser people. You'll find a similar arrogance on the show itself.