Sometimes something can be too good. A perfect cast, a perfect writing team, a perfect timeslot, and perfect showrunners would lead someone expect unbridled success for a television show. In the case of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it meant, what some considered, an unmitigated disaster. In 2006, Aaron Sorkin was making his triumphant return to television. After his previous venture, the West Wing, had wrapped its final season (albeit without him or partner Thomas Schlame since they had departed from the show in 2003). NBC was frantically looking for their next big tentpole show. Sorkin had spent his time apart from working on the West Wing developing many new properties for theater and television and the one he most wanted to work on followed the behind-the-scene drama of running a late-night comedy show. NBC was intrigued and approved the commission of a pilot. Casting was announced with Bradley Whitford (a veteren of Sorkin’s the West Wing), Matthew Perry (who played Chandler Bing on Friends), Amanda Peet, Timothy Busfield, Steven Webber, and D.L. Hughley. Initaial hopes for the show were extremely high and the series was greenlit upon postive response to the well-crafted pilot episode. Critics, though, were slightly apprehensive about the show. Sorkin had a great deal riding on this, his third television effort (the dramedy Sports Night on ABC had preceded West Wing on television), and the pressure to have an instant success was most likely the number one killer of the show. The public’s expectations were never going to be met and the constant comparisons to Sorkin’s other work were inevitable. The show was pulled mid season and was not renewed for a second order.
This is an extremely unfortunate turn of events because there is really nothing wrong with Studio 60. It’s actually a great show. Sorkin is known for creating compelling and charming characters and delivering winning dialogue for them to recite and Schlame can set up an episode’s look and feel to be almost cinema-worthy. It does become evident over the course of the season that a powerplay between the showrunners and the network was brewing. Stories felt less logical, subplots felt forced, and the trajectory of the show started to slide, but viewers who stuck with it could still feel Sorkin’s hands attempting to keep his characters alive, but the ship had sailed. NBC dropped the last batch of episodes for final viewing with no fanfare and wrapped the show swiftly with the showrunners trying to satisfy as many lingering threads as they could.
This leaves us with a complete series of episodes following some winning characters, some intriguing stories, and some misfire attempts at perfection. In a sense, that’s an apt description for everyday life, can’t it? Give this series a shot and see for yourself. I don’t expect everyone to enjoy it, but I do expect people to smile at least once.