I was in New York just before “Studio 60” debuted in 2006, and it was a big deal. The major US TV networks had gotten into a major bidding war to secure Aaron Sorkin’s new show, based around a late night “Saturday Night Live” comedy show, and when NBC won the rights, they pumped huge money into advertising it, with billboards, magazines and bus stop ads. This was to be the biggest show on TV that season.
It bombed. In fact, it bombed so badly that hardly anybody saw the final few episodes as its viewing numbers dropped from 14 million to 4 million, and it was quietly cancelled after 22 episodes.
When I first saw it, I was quite underwhelmed. It had all the Sorkin stuff, and was jammers full of ex-West Wing alumni like Bradley Whitford, Matthew Perry and Timothy Busfield, but overall, it was all a bit, well, “meh”.
Yet, watching it now, having bought it cheap on DVD, I ask myself: would I watch a second season? Surprisingly, the answer is Yes I would. With the benefit of hindsight I think I know what went wrong with the show. Firstly, it came after “The West Wing”, which reinvented political drama. There were huge expectations on this extremely expensive ($3m an episode cost to NBC) to produce show, which could never be met. After all, people discovered “The West Wing”, whereas they were waiting for this.
Secondly, it’s about a subject (effectively SNL) which is revered by comedians, writers and The New Yorker crowd but is just a funny TV show to everybody else. It is hard to make drama out of something that people do not regard as important. It’s like setting a show in the competitive world of show jumping. A big deal to some people, but…
Funnily enough, I could see it working as an HBO show now, especially with it’s angle about the politics of television. Wait, isn’t there a show on HBO about a TV show written by Aaron Sorkin? Oh well.
Give it a go, all the same. Whitford and Perry have genuine onscreen chemistry, and I’d like to see them in something together again. It’s also set during the paranoid days of the Bush administration, before that nice well-spoken young man from Hawaii rescued us all, and you can notice it.
One other thing: it was this show that finally made me try to write stuff professionally, and watching it reminded me of the very first cheque I ever got for writing, and thinking “Really, people are going to pay me for this?”