Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip premiered on American television screens over a decade ago, as Aaron Sorkin’s new and distinctive offering of brisk dialogue and erudite allusions. It was instantly hailed by critics as another triumph of Sorkin’s, fresh off the finale of The West Wing. However, it was then axed after a sole series, subsequently raising questions over whether it was really that good.
Studio 60 followed the employees of a late night sketch show, similar to its real-life counterpart Saturday Night Live, that is at risk of compromising comedic integrity for the commercialist agenda of their network. The droll heroes, played by Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry, are reemployed four years after departing the show with hopes of revitalising it, with the help of a new network executive. Sorkin’s argument is clear: the art form of television has the capacity to do good.
From the outset the brooding cinematography matches the effervescent dialogue, replete with witticisms that beg to be written down and memorised by viewers. The rich dialogue is complemented by the characters. Even the villainous network chairman refuses to remain peripheral and insensitive, boasting a modest sense of humour that even begins to steal scenes. Studio 60 seems to posit an optimistic world where even the crooked have a hidden heroism.
Eyebrows are raised over why this quick, rich and bold piece of television was cancelled. While, in Sorkin fashion, it resorts to moralising at points, it is compelling viewing from the outset. It seems to have sadly been affected by the success of its predecessor, The West Wing. Comparison is inevitable, and sadly Studio 60 falls short.
The irony of the show lies in its status as a polemic on the cultural wasteland of television; this was becoming and has since become groundless. Television is now a fertile ground, with fresh shows constantly emerging to quash the mediocre and false. Sadly it seems that Studio 60, despite its distinct potential, fell prey to this persistent substitution.