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In third grade, I wrote a parody of Portnoy’s Complaint that killed.
August 14, 2014 1:10 PM   Subscribe

"This fall, the long-running NBS sketch show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is set to enter its 29th season, and no one has been a larger part of the program's success than its head writer and executive producer Matt Albie, who has been a major creative force behind the show since he was first hired in 1997. I was fortunate to be granted a rare interview with Albie, who contacted me via his Twitter account to set things up during his summer break from S60."
posted by Snarl Furillo (29 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Snarl? Ya got spunk.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:12 PM on August 14


Spunk? Ya got moxie.
posted by exparrot at 1:25 PM on August 14


Oy vey.

[Jack approaches Jordan in the studio as the new show is about to air, quoting fictional newsman Lou Grant.]
Jack: You know what, Mary? You got spunk.
Jack & Jordan: I hate spunk.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:34 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Ok. To prove how unsuccessful and arrogant the single season of this show was, we're still creating and discussing mildly intricate fictional worlds based on it, 7 or 8 years later. Tough crowd.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:46 PM on August 14


When asked for comment, the bear replied, "Grrrrrrrrr."
posted by Lokheed at 2:03 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


I sort of liked that show...
posted by Thistledown at 2:23 PM on August 14 [5 favorites]


I adored that show.
posted by NedKoppel at 2:33 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


Okay, I'm an unabashed Studio 60 fan, but that mock interview is pitch perfect.
Well, on Sunday the staff comes in and we meet that week’s host. This is a tradition that Wes [Mendell] started, and I think it’s a good one. It sort of allows the host to feel comfortable. So, we go around the room and pitch the host sketch ideas. Mine are the best.

On Monday and Tuesday, everyone goes into their offices and silently thinks about comedy. They think about the history of comedy—where it’s been and where it’s headed.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:33 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Ha. The problem with Studio 60 was that Aaron Sorkin took the same gravitas from The West Wing, and, later, The Newsroom--shows that needed that gravitas--and applied it to a sketch comedy show. Or rather, the serious and important work of a ....sketch comedy show.

Everyone in America apparently watched this sketch comedy show, everyone knew every cast member, the cast member's political and religious affiliations, every sketch, controversial sketches that hadn't even aired yet but were somehow lead stories in the news, the producers were asked for their autographs....it was all a bit too much. And to top it off, the sketches in the show (in the show) weren't even the least bit funny, which made me wonder why anyone would even watch the show.

I loves me some Aaron Sorkin, but Studio 60 was just a bit off kilter. Had the tone been lighter and genuinely funny, then...well, it would've been 30 Rock.
posted by zardoz at 2:52 PM on August 14 [6 favorites]




Fey told the crowd, "I hear Aaron Sorkin is in Los Angeles wearing the same dress - but longer, and not funny."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:57 PM on August 14 [13 favorites]


Well said, zardoz. There was something insanely arrogant about Sorkin's apparent belief that he could toss off convincingly funny sketch humor as background for his show. As though the crafting of said humor was not a fairly challenging job in and of itself.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:58 PM on August 14


Sorkin .....insanely arrogant ...is really all you need to know.
posted by The Whelk at 3:32 PM on August 14


I'm reasonably confident that the TiVo we have stored in our garage has the entire season of Studio 60. I may pull that thing out for a 10th anniversary viewing party.

(That TiVo also has every episode of Inhale Yoga with Steve Ross.)
posted by 26.2 at 4:14 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


Even at his arrogant worst, it's still smarter, better dialog than anything else on tv. Well, yeah, low bar. Sorkin needs a good editor, but got too big to be edited. I'll still watch anything he writes.
posted by theora55 at 7:42 PM on August 14 [2 favorites]


So, this one-season show from 8 years ago was so bad that hating it has a fandom?
posted by anazgnos at 8:53 PM on August 14 [4 favorites]


I don't remember it as awful. It was more a disappointment based on high expectations. One of the best writers working in TV. Great cast who reliably delivered on small screen. A premise that allows for meaningful guest appearances. Snuffy frakking Walden doing the music.

When you look at that cast photo, it's apparent that they had a ton of talent on the show. It just didn't work. If it had gone to a second season, they might have gotten it together.
posted by 26.2 at 9:41 PM on August 14


There was something insanely arrogant about Sorkin's apparent belief that he could toss off convincingly funny sketch humor as background for his show. As though the crafting of said humor was not a fairly challenging job in and of itself.

Anybody who thinks anything about the show-within-the-show was supposed to be funny other than its terribleness is seriously not understanding what was going on in that show. Like, on a fundamental level.

And yeah, Studio 60 wasn't as good at being a comedy as 30 Rock, but it also wasn't as good of a pseudo-medieval fantasy epic as Game of Thrones, and you never hear anybody hold that against it. (Also, "not as good of a comedy as 30 Rock" is a hell of a high bar to hold over something.)
posted by IAmUnaware at 10:02 PM on August 14


Anybody who thinks anything about the show-within-the-show was supposed to be funny other than its terribleness is seriously not understanding what was going on in that show. Like, on a fundamental level.

No, I disagree with this. The only way your theory works is if the comedy was supposed to be bad, on some ironic level, but that's clearly not the case. I get that comedy was not the point of the show (of Studio 60, not the show within the show)*, that it was in fact a drama about running a comedy show, but when the show (within the show) was so unfunny and unwatchable, that took me out of it. Hard to imagine the whole country enraptured by a show that's painful to watch. I can suspend my disbelief only so far.

*It's hard to talk and write about this when the show is called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and the show within that has the same name. Sorkin could've spent five more minutes on a separate name, and I wouldn't have to construct the awful sentences above.
posted by zardoz at 10:32 PM on August 14 [3 favorites]


Sorkin could've spent five more minutes on a separate name

He had 'shrooms to take.
posted by crossoverman at 12:03 AM on August 15


I loved the show, hated how it devolved and never lived up to its promise. I watched every episode first-run, and have watched the series several times since. I have a pretty good grasp on where it was strong and where it failed (I think perhaps better than the author of that AV Club article, who seems to have only seen it maybe twice.)

It started to be a real mess after about 3 episodes, and it continued to pivot and spin and spiral while it was obviously being (theoretically) fine-tuned via focus groups and other feedback mechanisms. It had genuinely brilliant and effective sequences dispersed amongst its preaching and flat-falling scenes. And regardless of the singling out of "The Long Lead Story" by the linked article, that was a very effective episode which felt entirely true to Jeter's character and understandable in the context of a country feeling lost in an unwinnable war.

The point where the show really lost me, it did the first time around, and it continues to with repeat viewings, is when Danny Tripp suddenly and inexplicably decides he is in love with Jordan McDeere. It feels obvious to me what happened -- this was planned by Sorkin as a long-term story arc, something which was going to unfold over the course of a few seasons, but the viewership was falling off and basically none of the characters liked each other aside from Tripp and Albie, and after some feedback Sorkin decided to just leap those characters' story arcs forward a bit to try to inject some likeability and playfulness into the mix.

But man, Tripp turns into basically a stalking creepster with how he tries to convince McDeere that, for whatever reason, she should also suddenly love him. I was creeped out by it the very first time around. There are entire blogs written by women who receive this kind of attention from a man, and they are not flattering to the entire half of the species which carry the XY chromosome set. And generally applauded for telling how they feel about it all.

So, yeah. The show is a bit of a mess. It's still some of the smartest writing I've seen, and it makes some good points about culture, race, gender bias, and the difficulty of ambition and its costs to the individuals who strive to reach for the heavens when perhaps their grasp is exceeded.

I forgive the show much of that, however, because of Episode 11, The Christmas Show. A perfect blend of reality meeting fiction. All the soap opera character-interaction blah blah blah aside, the B (or maybe C) plot of the episode is musicians are calling in sick in order to create substitute musician slots for musicians who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Tripp learns about what is really happening with the sick-out, and arranges to give a Tipitina Foundation band a showcase position on that night's show.

And for that one episode, Aaron Sorkin melded the tragic basis of this subplot of his television story and the real life tragedy of New Orleans' struggling-to-survive musical culture and placed a whole band of homeless, out of work jazz musicians front and center on national television, giving them the spotlight and using his network microphone to draw attention to the potential collapse of this vital music community.

Just typing this out has raised goosebumps all over my body and brought tears to my eyes. It was one of the most profoundly beautiful moments of scripted television I think I have ever seen in my lifetime. It made fiction feel vital and alive and worthwhile on a level that it rarely does, because it was being used in the service of not only informing and inspiring, but actually literally putting money in the pockets of people who were desperate, not only for their personal survival but for the survival of their craft.

So, again, yeah. The show was a mess. But damn, if more shows were this involved with reality, we might find the community at large was a much much better place.
posted by hippybear at 1:30 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


It's hard to talk and write about this when the show is called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and the show within that has the same name. Sorkin could've spent five more minutes on a separate name, and I wouldn't have to construct the awful sentences above.

Actually the show within the show was called "Friday Night in Hollywood" though, yeah, everyone simply referred to it as "Studio 60." Much in the way that "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night" led to the show being called Saturday Night Live or SNL, "Live from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it's Friday Night in Hollywood" became simply "Studio 60."
posted by dances with hamsters at 5:26 AM on August 15


I actually liked Studio 60, but it sort-of felt doomed from the start. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I knew from the get-go that I shouldn't get too invested in it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 AM on August 15


Beevo: Cal, I can go to my place, get him, be back here in 45 minutes, this will all be over.
Cal: Alright, alright get the coyote, to get the ferret, that was sent after the snake, but Beevo here's my question just so I know.
Beevo: Yeah?
Cal: What goes in after the coyote?
I rest my case.
posted by scalefree at 7:04 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


Okay, Studio 60 wasn't completely without redeeming qualities, but by the prevailing standards of quality for pseudo-medieval fantasy epics, it was crap.
posted by Naberius at 8:39 AM on August 15


Yes, Studio 60 was a drama about a comedy show and thus did not, itself, have to be funny. That said, as a show about a funny show, it would have been better if the show within the show was funny, at least a little.

Consider that a drama about a male ballet dancer would fall flat if the main character was 5'11", 300 lbs. and constantly tripped over his own feet. It wouldn't matter how well the backstage drama was handled, you'd constantly be thinking, "OK, that's not a fucking ballet dancer."

Similarly on Studio 60, it was distracting that the comedy show within the show was not funny.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:12 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Didn't the in-universe show air on Sunday, not Friday (as cited in Matt's interview)? That was one of the aspects that seemed most unbelievable- who would watch an unfunny sketch comedy show very late on a Sunday night?


Ha. The problem with Studio 60 was that Aaron Sorkin took the same gravitas from The West Wing, and, later, The Newsroom--shows that needed that gravitas--and applied it to a sketch comedy show. Or rather, the serious and important work of a ....sketch comedy show.


Sports Night managed to get this right most of the time. They knew perfectly well that they weren't a hard-hitting news show and sometimes took themselves a little too seriously, but it didn't feel as incongruous as S60.

And, of course, who didn't side with Dana when Gordon told her "It's just sports!"
posted by casualinference at 10:19 AM on August 15


Okay, nevermind about Friday v. Sunday. I remember Danny lamenting that people used to ask each other if they'd seen S60 over the Monday morning water cooler, which is even more ridiculous if the show airs on Friday.
posted by casualinference at 10:40 AM on August 15


Studio 60 the NBC show was a big fat glorious mess. I could simultaneously love and loathe it; I saw what Aaron Sorkin desperately wanted to do with it, which was to write Sports Night meets SNL, and to some end he succeeded. He accurately mirrored much of Saturday Night's growth, progress, staff turnover and history (though he borrowed from Network for Judd Hirsch) and it was brilliant. Sorkin wrote in three meta levels, something I hadn't seen before in "normal" "mainstream" "network" "TV".

Matt and Danny were a strange gestalt of both Lorne Michaels and Sorkin himself (a gestalt gestalt?), the prodigal sons returning to an ailing, dying program much like Michaels had done in 1986. Lorne stepped in just as Brandon Tartikoff was about to cancel SNL, making Dick Ebersol's 85-86 season the last. Sorkin was returning to network television after leaving The West Wing, but NBC wasn't exactly going under then. However, their ideas were all big and their personal demons at least being worked on.

The ensemble cast both factual, ersatz and Sorkin were talented, unique and trendsetting, but beset with personal problems and interfactual fighting, rivalries, etc. Sorkin threw in Harriet, the Kristin Chenoweth of the story, his ex, the talented tall blonde musical comedienne who got born again and then dumped him cause he was just stewing in excess. Now she was Matt's ex, and Sorkin got to relive all his theological fights with Chenoweth, presumably re-writing them so Matt got some of the better lines.

Even with that much self-insertion the show had some promise, especially when we get thrown into the first season's big crisis about propping up a lousy comedy show. Matt and Danny jump right back into things, swear up and down left and right that they're gonna take back comedy, they're going to freshen up Studio 60, they're gonna make that daring, risk-taking comedy that's been missing these last few years. And how do they herald their amazing comeback? By having the cast sing a Gilbert & Sullivan parody--and not only that, but it's the most often-parodied G&S song, you know, the one about the modern major general, only this time the lyrics are changed to mean comedians! Viewers in the real world roll their eyes, but viewers in the Studio 60 world apparently loved it.

They could have it.

The episode where all the animals get stuck under the stage was a lovely story of escalation gone horribly awry, but the show lost me when they brought in the father of one of the cast members, the self-proclaimed salt of the earth from the midwest (or, as everybody on the show calls it, the flyover states) so he can say such rich, deep, anti-intellectual, salt-of-the-earth things like "You have no business being in television, son, which by the way I don't watch because I'm too busy being a salt-of-the-earth strawman." When I realized that was indeed what Aaron Sorkin thought of the middle class I stopped watching. 30 Rock was turning out to be funnier, anyway.

Around ten years ago a playwright friend of mine wrote a brief piece called "Aaron Sorkin Goes to the Olive Garden" and put it up on the Internet. I'm not sure if it's still around. Through some great strange conjunction of Internet circumstances, however, the sketch actually made it onto Sorkin's desk. He read it, then immediately called my friend a wise-ass. What does he know from comedy, anyway?
posted by Spatch at 2:08 AM on August 16 [3 favorites]


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