Monday, July 03, 2006

EVill Preview: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip


To say I'm wetting my pants over the new series from Aaron Sorkin & Tommy Schlamme is understatement. I'm practically shitting my pants over the new series from Aaron Sorkin & Tommy Schlamme.

In their 4 year, 88 episode tenure on (my beloved) West Wing, there were maybe--maybe--4 or 5 episodes that were less than absolutely brilliant. Only The Sopranos has a similar track record--though David Chase has only half as many episodes per season (and one season every OTHER year, on average). He also has a full writing staff. Sorkin had a staff, but he also had at least a teleplay credit on 84 of those 88 episodes.

I'm all for quality over quantity, but if you can provide BOTH, you win.

Studio 60 is an hourlong drama (with a large helping of comedy) about "the struggle between art and commerce" set behind the scenes at a thinly veiled version of Saturday Night Live. Bradley Whitford (Josh on The West Wing) stars along with Matthew Perry (finally getting a gig worthy of his talent) as an ass-kicking creative team fired from the show 4 years earlier and brought back to make it funny, and relevant--and dangerous--again after their mentor self-immolates in an on-air meltdown reminiscent of Paddy Chayefsky's Network.

HOWARD BEALE
I'm mad as hell, and I'm not
gonna take it anymore!

Here's a couple of pages from the Studio 60 pilot's teaser. (hat tip: Sarah).

WES (CONT'D)
(to the audience)
This isn't gonna be a very good show
tonight and I think you should change
the channel.


INTERCUT WITH:

INT. CONTROL ROOM - SAME TIME

People are flipping through their scripts--lost--

LILLY
What the hell?

ASSISTANT
When did this get put in?

WES (ON MONITORS)
You should change the channel right now,
or better yet turn off the TV.


LILLY
(into headset)
Does anybody know what the hell is going on?

Off an AUDIENCE laugh--

WES
No, I know it seems like this is supposed
to be funny, but tomorrow you're gonna
find out it wasn't and I'll have been
fired by then. This isn't supposed--this
isn't a sketch.


CAL
This is for real.

WES
This show used to be cutting edge
political and social satire but it's
gotten lobotomized by a candy-ass
broadcast network hell-bent on doing
nothing that might challenge their
audience.


At the edges of the stage, cast and crew are starting to grow nervous. Just not sure what's happening or what they're supposed to do.

WES (CONT'D)
We were about to do a sketch you've
already seen 500 times. Yes, no one's
gonna confuse George Bush with George
Plimpton, we get it. We're all being
lobotomized by the country's most
influential industry which has thrown in
the towel on any endeavor that does not
include the courting of 12-year old boys.


TOM has been silently joined by SIMON, who we saw give him the
low-five backstage. At one point, SIMON will make a gut
reaction move to go out and get WES, but TOM will just hold
his hand out to stop him.

WES (CONT'D)
And not even the smart 12-year-olds, the
stupid ones, the idiots, of which there are
plenty thanks in no small part to this network.
So change the channel, turn off the tv. Do it
right now.


JERRY, the network executive we saw before, bursts into the
control room as WES continues.

JERRY
Get him off!

CAL
How?

JERRY
Get the camera off him!

CAL
And put it on what?

JERRY
Cut the boom mic, then!

CAL
It's his show, I take my
instructions from him.


WES
...and there's always been a struggle
between art and commerce, but now
I'm telling you art is getting its ass
kicked, and it's making us mean, and
it's making us bitchy, and it's making
us cheap punks and that's not who
we are.


JERRY
(to the DELAY MAN)
Are you bleeping this out?

DELAY MAN
He hasn't said anything you're not
allowed to say.


JERRY
He's telling people to change the
channel.


CAL
I don't think you have to worry about
anybody changing the channel right now.


JERRY
Get him off or you don't have a job
tomorrow.


CAL
I'm running a live national broadcast,
can you threaten me later?


JERRY
I'm the network executive in charge here,
and I'm threatening you now.
Get us outta this!


WES
...We're eating worms for money, "Who
Wants to Screw My Sister,"
guys are
getting killed in a war that's got theme
music and a logo. That remote in your
hand is a crack pipe...


JERRY
Cal--

CAL
I'm waiting for him to say something that
isn't true.


JERRY
(turning on the room)
Who else in here knows how to do this?

CAL
Don't talk to my staff.

JERRY
Get him off!

LILLY
(quietly to CAL)
You got two kids in school.

CAL
What?!

JERRY
She said you got two kids in school whose
father's five seconds away from never
working again.


WES
...and it's not even good pornography.
They're just this side of snuff films, and friends,
that's what's next 'cause that's all that's left.


LILLY
(quietly urging)
Cal.

WES
And the two things that make them scared
gutless are the FCC and every psycho-religious
cult that gets positively horny at the very mention
of a boycott.


CAL'S almost made up his mind. It's like he's a trained and
experienced policeman but this is the first time he's faced
live fire.

CAL
All right--I think we're just gonna go to
titles. Stand by VTR.


WES
These are the people they're afraid of,
this prissy, feckless, off-the-charts greed-filled
whorehouse of a network you're watching. This
thoroughly unpatriotic--


CAL
Go VTR! Go VTR! Roll titles! Now!

And we

SMASH CUT TO:

OUR MAIN TITLES

END OF TEASER


Pretty fuckin awesome, huh? Sorkin vet Tim Busfield (who in addition to his work on The West Wing appeared on Broadway in A Few Good Men) plays Cal, director of the show-within-a-show. He is also a directing producer.

Gotta love the symmetry--and this project is swimming in it. A writer and director brought back to save a fourth place network that fired them four years earlier? Hello?

Female lead Jordan McDeere (played by Amanda Peet) is based on Jamie Tarses, the youngest woman ever to run a network. She also happens to be Matt Perry's ex, and the sister of one of Sorkin's co-execs on Sports Night.

Harriet Hayes (played by the brilliant Sarah Paulson, pictured at right with Peet) is based in part on Kristen Chenoweth. In the pilot, Matt Perry's character--the writer--has broken up with Hayes after she promoted "an album of spiritual music" on Pat Robertson's 700 Club. Sorkin reportedly broke up with Chenoweth after she (yep) promoted an album of spiritual msuic on The 700 Club.

You can tell, in the first two scripts, that they're not done with each other. Likewise, Sorkin and Chenoweth seem to be "on again." (In the picture at left, they're at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, where Sorkin's new play,The Farnsworth Invention, premieres next winter.)

A third female character, Martha Moyer, who was excised from the pilot but will make her debut in the first batch of episodes, seems to be pretty obviously based on Maureen Dowd, another of Sorkin's exes. (I'm still hoping they can hammer out a deal with Mary Louise Parker... Feels like it was written for her.)

Steven Weber (pictured with Peet and Perry) also stars. Co-starring are DL Hughley, Nate Corddry (late of The Daily Show)Michael Stuhlbarg (late of Broadway's The Pillowman), Evan Handler(another West Wing vet) and Carlos Jacott (who played Lawrence in the Firefly pilot).

BTW, Sorkin is having a good year. In addition to having the most anticipated new TV show of the fall season, and The Farnsworth Invention, which may go to Broadway, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Mike-fucking-Nichols are about to make Charlie Wilson's War, based on Sorkin's adapted screenplay.

Ah--Nichols & Sorkin. That has a nice ring to it.

2 Comments:

Blogger Pete said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this one. I couldn't get into West Wing though, I think the hype killed it for me.

7/4/06, 12:21 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

*THUD* (nothing to see here, move along, folks)

7/4/06, 12:35 AM  

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