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An NBC ensemble show that premiered in 2006 about life behind the scenes at a fictional sketch comedy show. No, not the one with Tina Fey. You're thinking of Thirty Rock. This one was the one created by Aaron Sorkin, was an hour-long, had a much more dramatic slant, and ended up lasting only a single season.
After the creator of failing sketch-comedy show "Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip" is fired for launching into an angry improvised rant on the state of television during a live broadcast, former writers Danny Tripp (now a producer barred from his next Hollywood film for testing positive for cocaine) and Matt Albie (presumed Author Avatar for Sorkin) are called in by plucky new network executive Jordan McDeere and her amoral boss Jack Rudolph to save the Show Within a Show, which stars Harriet Hayes (a fundamentalist Christian and Matt Albie's ex-girlfriend), Tom Jeter (all-American midwesterner with a brother serving in Afghanistan), and Simon Stiles (the Token Minority and not particularly pleased with it). Each week the cast deals with personal and professional issues in front of and behind the camera as they try to make sure the show gets off the ground. And politics. Lots and lots of politics. For some reason.
Studio 60 is mostly remembered as a self-important commentary on Everything Aaron Sorkin Thinks Is Wrong With The World And Television In Particular. The dryness of the tone and style of The West Wing when applied to sketch-comedy writers seemed a bit incongruous. What's more, the fact that Harriet Hayes seemed a direct parallel to Sorkin's ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth (with permission) often made it seem like the creator was choosing to air his relationship dirty laundry Fix Fic style across the airwaves (including such Real Life events as Chenoweth's appearance on The 700 Club and her decision to pose for FHM as plot fodder). All of this wasn't helped by how much of the comic relief of the Show Within a Show sketches fell flat, itself magnified by a number of characters talking about how brilliant they were.
That said, it did have some flashes of inspired wit, some eminently quotable lines (it's an Aaron Sorkin show after all), John Goodman won an Emmy for his appearance on the show, it had some great musical guests, and, if nothing else, the pilot episode seems to have gotten near-universal approval (which makes its ultimate fate even sadder).
In any case, after said Pilot, the Ratings dropped every week. It was taken off the air after 17 episodes, and only came back for five more because its replacement rated even worse. (And, more than likely, because the network didn't want to piss Sorkin off too badly.) No one was too surprised when the expensive series didn't get renewed for a second season. It still has a loyal cult following among some Aaron Sorkin fans, but the general consensus seems to be that it had a lot of potential it didn't live up to.
- Alliterative Name: Harriet Hayes (née Hannah Harriet Hayes), Simon Stiles, and even the name of the show itself.
- All-Star Cast: This was a TV show with a feature-film-worthy cast of regulars. A large part of the reason the show didn't get renewed for a second season was because the cast was just so darn expensive.
- As Himself: The celebrity guests are this to the power of two; Rob Reiner as Rob Reiner, as Rob Reiner!
- Author Avatar: Matt. Oh so very much
- Author Catchphrase (the very last episode was "What Kind of Day Has It Been" -- and there are likely others.)
- In "The Wrap Party," Tom says that his parents seem not to understand that he could "buy [their] house four times and turn it into [his] ping-pong room." In "4 AM Miracle," Matt talks about other people claiming they wrote a script of his and dismissing it because "if they’d written it, they’d have written it." Both lines are echoed in The Social Network.
- Babies Ever After
- Bilingual Backfire
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Harriet. You'd think this would hurt her career, but it seems she's mainly an actress/impressionist.
- Can You Hear Me Now: An instance of double-cell-phone-failure is used to Hand Wave the obvious solution to the locked-out-on-the-roof plot.
- Casting Gag: Out lesbian Sarah Paulson as the Christian Harriet Hayes, whose ambiguous feelings about gay marriage factor significantly into the plot of "Nevada Day."
- Celebrity Paradox: The Show Within a Show has actors and comedians as celebrity guests, but not all of them are more famous than the show's own actors. Best way to tell is if you haven't seen them in a previous episode, they're As Themselves.
- Particulary weird was Allison Janney as herself, as she was (and is) most famous for her role on The West Wing, a show written and directed by Sorkin which co-starred Bradley Whitford that had Timothy Busfield as a frequent supporting cast member and Janney's love interest.
- Even weirder: Janney indicated to another character that this person had her confused with Christine Lahti. Earlier in the season, Christine Lahti had guest-starred, playing a reporter.
- Company Town
- Completely Unnecessary Translator: The Macau investor.
- Crosses the Line Twice: Subverted (off-camera), and deconstructed in "The Option Period", when Matt complains about an (unseen) sketch, "Quentin Tarantino's Hallmark Movie 'Turkey Won't Die'", that a clueless special-effects guy ruins by curtailing the scripted excessive blood, thereby un-crossing the second line, so to speak.
- The Danza (Matthew Perry as "Matt")
- A Day in the Limelight
- Deadpan Snarker: Many.This is a Sorkin Drama after all
- Did Not Do the Research: Although not for lack of trying. Sorkin did ask to observe a week of behind the scenes at SNL but was denied by Lorne Michaels who was developing 30 Rock at the time. Most of Sorkin's ideas about what goes on at a SNL type show are more from his own experiences producing his own series. His ideas about why a comedy show has bad writing and how they deal with current events are questionable.
- Directed by Cast Member
- Dogged Nice Guy
- Dueling Shows: Thirty Rock. If you went back in time to 2006 and told someone 30 Rock would last six seasons (and counting) while Studio 60 would only get one before being unceremoniously canceled, you would have been laughed out of the room. Oh, and just add in the fact that 30 Rock has won three straight Emmys for Best Comedy while Studio 60 never even managed a nomination for Best Drama and then they'll really think you must be joking. Everyone expected Studio 60 would be the next West Wing and that 30 Rock would be gone long before. That said, Tina Fey has said that Sorkin had nothing but the best wishes for her show, even sending her a dozen roses the week 30 Rock premiered.
- Sorkin cameoed as himself in a fifth-season episode of 30 Rock:
- Egg Sitting - the practice baby. It explodes.
- To be more specific, Cal and Tom decapitate it in a guillotine (to be fair, they didn't think it would work) and when asked to repair it, the prop guys have a little fun and makes its head pop up on a spring and its eyes bug out. Dead Baby Comedy, maybe?
- Episode Title Card
- Finding Judas
|* Five-Man Band|
|The Hero||Matt Albie|
|The Lancer||Danny Tripp|
|The Big Guy||Simon Stiles|
|The Smart Guy||Cal|
|The Chick||Harriet Hayes|
- Follow Up Failure
- Fox News Liberal Pretty much everyone that is not a progressive or a jerkass.
- Hand or Object Underwear - Harriet
- He Really Can Act: Matt Perry, despite being saddled with playing an insufferable prick, performs admirably and shows some unexpected depth
- Hideous Hangover Cure
- Hollywood Atheist - Heartbreakingly averted by Danny Tripp refusing to kneel to a god that would kill children, after getting the "foxhole" speech from Harriet and with his pregnant fiancee at risk of dying.
- How We Got Here: 'Nevada Day' - How Tom Got to a police station in Pahrump, Nevada, dressed as Jesus Christ and charged with drug possession, assault and speeding.
- Info Dump: Literally ten minutes of "The Long Lead Story" is Harriet describing her Backstory in detail.
- Informed Ability - Matt's sketch-writing
- Harriet's comedic talents and singing ability definitely count too.
- Knock-Knock Joke
- Locked in a Room: or roof, rather, with Danny and Jordan
- Metaphorgotten: Jack unwisely attempting Witty Banter with Danny.
Danny: Don't we have bigger fish to fry right now?
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: Parodied in-show, with a sketch about a newsflash for a Missing White Woman's Cellphone which makes a throwaway reference to a bunch of kidnapped black people.
- N-Word Privileges: Darius and Simon use this against each other, although it's meant to be antagonizing to make a point rather than friendly.
- Overly Long Gag: Danny parodies the "Banker" Padding segments of Deal or No Deal in a sketch with Howie Mandell.
- Playing Against Type: Matthew Perry in a serious role.
- Ratings Stunt: in the first episode back after the forced hiatus, several ratings stunts often used by dramas in ratings trouble are listed. The show goes on to do ALL of them over the next five episodes, but manages to make them work anyway.
- Recitation Handclasp: The cast assumed this posture while singing their version of the Major-General Song.
- Right Behind Me: Tom does an excellent one of these when he bombs into his dressing room and refers to Kim as "that lunatic girl"...without realizing her very important parents are standing right there.
- Running Gag: Sorkin loves to incorporate throw-away running gags, often with each instance rephrasing the joke from a different angle. For example, one episode supposedly had off-camera guest-host (and real-life Malaproper) Jessica Simpson filling in extra airtime at the end of the fictional show's live broadcast:
Cal: Nice girl, nice performer... don't want her to extemporize on our air. She had time to thank her pets, and then she asked us all to pray for peace in the Midwest.
—Jordan: Good show! ... I saw the end, and I think we should all take a moment to consider the suffering in Des Moines.
- Serious Business: They work on an SNL ripoff, yet Matt and Danny act as if they are writing an important Social Drama about Society's Ills. Sorkin's usual dramatic style, which worked so well on The West Wing, might seem a bit jarring in this context... which isn't to say that TV writers don't act like their job is more important than the President's.
- Shout-Out: Well, possibly: in "Breaking News," Jack states that they have a "4.8/15" ratings/share.
- Show Within a Show
- Show Runner
- Sorkin Relationship Moment
- Spit Take: there's a scene where all the comics compete backstage to deliver the best one.
- Stalker with a Crush: Danny is one of these to Jordan for a while, but as soon as he backs off they get together anyway.
- Stop Being Stereotypical: Simon is disappointed and almost depressed that a heavily praised black stand up comedian he has gone to see performs nothing but cliched racial humor and White Dude, Black Dude jokes. However, the comedian who goes on next, though not very funny in that particular performance, has legitimately witty things to say and is recruited onto the the Studio 60 writing staff to help nurture his talent and bring a new perspective to the show.
- Take Our Word for It: We never see the sketches that are supposed to be bad -- "Peripheral Vision Man"; "Turkey won't Die" -- just informed that they were BAD. If they'd also left the "best" sketches off-screen, the idea that the Show Within a Show is generally hilarious would have gone down a lot easier.
- Take That: All. The. Time.
- The entire concept of the pilot is a massive Take That towards ABC (which cancelled Sports Night) and NBC (which ran The West Wing, from which Sorkin ... "quit"). Matt Albie, the Sorkin self-insert, is an incredibly talented writer. People can't get over how talented he is. He's so talented and classy that they've just got to repeat it over and over again. Sadly, his intelligence and outspokenness are far superior to that of the network, which fires him, after which point his show steadily declines until they are forced to come grovelling back to him. Later, Jordan fights to pick up a pilot for a show written about the UN with striking similarities to The West Wing, gushing over the excellent scripting.
- Aaron Sorkin based the character of Harriet Hayes (the ex-girlfriend of his self-insert character Matt) on his ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth (with permission), and aims several Take Thats at Chenoweth through the character's interactions, specifically regarding Chenoweth's decision to appear on The 700 Club and an FHM bathing-suit photo-shoot of Chenoweth's, employing the other characters to lambaste Harriet for her decision to do a lingerie shoot.
- Also at former West Wing writer Rick Cleveland, with whom Sorkin had a public feud over "In Excelsis Deo", an episode which the two co-wrote. Cleveland is written into Studio 60 as Ricky Tahoe. Ricky is time and again characterized as a hack, a nasty little man who publicly ostracized Matt over a controversial statement Matt had made. He ultimately leaves the show with a crappily written pilot script, petulantly taking the entire writing staff with him. In a rare moment of class just before Ricky departs, Matt secretly gives Ron suggestions on how to improve the problematic script.
- It's worth noting that even though they almost always eventually lose, the characters used for the Take That are usually painted as sympathetic and do have legitimate points that are acknowledged in universe.
- Matt gets plenty of atheistic Take That's in against Christianity, Christians, Harriet's faith, and people of faith in general. Everyone will tell you that. What no one seems to want to admit is that Harriet generally wins these arguments whenever she gets Matt to shut up long enough to EXPLAIN her position.
- The Teaser
- Throwing Out the Script: The first scene of the pilot.
- Undermined by Reality: One of the main contentions of Jordan's character is that high-budget, high-quality programming is truly what America wants, and the network will be successful if they avoid cheesy trashy reality programming. It turns out it isn't.
- The Unfavourite: Tom, compared to his soldier younger brother.
- Walk and Talk: Duh. It's a Sorkin show, after all.
Danny: Can we have this conversation moving?
- White Dude, Black Dude: Simon is dismayed to find a hotly tipped black stand-up's material is nothing but this.
- Who's on First? Mentioned in 'The Wrap Party', where Tom is amazed that his parents somehow haven't heard of the routine. He starts trying to explain it (solo) before wisely deciding that "trying to describe it to you now is just going to turn into a whole new sketch".
- Will They or Won't They?
- Writer on Board: Want to know in excruciating detail what Aaron Sorkin thinks about any topic? Boy, is this the show for you!
- Writers Suck: Unless they're named "Matt Albie".