Back in 2006 I was pretty excited because there were two shows coming out that were based around a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show. Many people actually took sides between 30 Rock and Studio 60 and I was one of them, but I totally sided with Studio 60. The show was created by TV royalty Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme who have had varying levels of success with their partnerships. West Wing, which I haven’t watched, lasted plenty of seasons while Sports Night, which I did watch and loved, lasted only one season, just like Studio 60.
The concept is that an SNL-like show set in California starring DL Hughley, Sarah Paulson, Nathan Cordrry and a series of other actors including Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg gets taken over by former head writer and producer Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford after their old boss loses it on TV and tells people how it really is. Meanwhile, Amanda Peet plays a brand new executive at the TV station who’s first day coincides with the old boss’s meltdown. It’s her idea to get Perry and Whitford even though her boss/fellow exec Steven Weber isn’t so sure about it. From there you get fictionalized accounts of the politics of television from the boardroom to the writers room and a series of relationships like Whitford and Peet’s burgeoning romance and the crazy-complex history between Paulson and Perry who have dated and broken up more time than Ross and Rachel on Perry’s former show.
I absolutely love this show. For one thing, it’s got that signature Sorkin walk and talk format with the camera following characters from one place to the other and moving the story forward in that very natural manner. When I was working at the magazine and there were more people there, this is kind of how things would be sometimes. I also like watching shows about writing and the process of writing. Perry finds himself in a writer’s room with a former writer whose wife and daughter died recently (Mark McKinney), a failing stand-up comedian (Colombus Short) and a writer from the room who hasn’t had a sketch on the show yet (my beloved Lucy Davis from the amazing British Office) and basically takes the reigns and ends up doing most of the show himself. I can kind of relate to how things when towards the end of my tenure at the magazine, but not nearly to that degree. As a writer myself, I’ve definitely had to deal with writer’s block and feeling like my material just isn’t good enough.
Now, of course, I’ve never been in a comedy TV writing room. I have been in rooms trying to come up with ideas for TTT, but I’m guessing it’s not really the same thing. My point is that I don’t know how accurate the portrayal is, but I also don’t really care because I always had fun with what was going on. I also appreciate how the show really gets into the nuts and bolts of putting a TV show like this on, unlike 30 Rock, which I also love. Heck, if you pay attention, you can learn something about the bedhind-the-scenes type stuff from Timothy Busfield’s role as the guy in the control room.
I’m also envious of the relationship between Perry and Whitford. They’re basically two dudes who met while working on the show and became friends. After their mysterious departure from the show within a show (which we find out about by the end of the series) they stuck together and paired up to write and direct successful movies. I’d like to have that kind of working relationship with someone. Their relationship is written and directed so well it reminds me of a lot of the people I used to work with and am still friends with now. Even their names, Matt and Danny, sound really good together. It’s those little touches that reveal more detailed writing.
Anyway, the question that always comes up when talking about a show that only lasted one season is “does it end well?” While there are definitely some smaller story elements that could have been carried on in a second season and oh how I wish it had, all of the major elements do get addressed by the end of the series. From the relationship between Perry and Paulson to Whitford’s relationship with Peet are her child. It’s a little more satisfying than something like Freaks & Geeks which still ended well, but left things on a total cliffhanger/set up for the next season. I highly recommend this show for anyone.