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Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: The Focus Group

by Bob Sassone, posted Oct 2nd 2006 11:29PM
Studio 60(S01E03) I'll get to the review in a moment, but first, a confession.

When I was a struggling writer who lived from paycheck to paycheck (when I had a paycheck), I signed up to do a lot of focus groups. They were easy, they paid $75, and all you had to do was sit around for an hour or two with a bunch of other people and talk about a product or a service. The thing is, and anyone who has gone to a focus group will admit this if they're being honest, is that they are filled with liars. Including me. They talk to you on the phone and ask you a bunch of questions about the focus group they're having, to see if they need you. Do you like Austrailian wine? Sure, I drink it all the time! Are you allergic to anything? Yup, I'm allergic to peanuts! Do you have kids? Oh yeah, I have five!

Anything for the $75.

That came to mind tonight with this episode. A focus group is shown the latest episode of Studio 60. They like the show for the first two questions, but later have a bad reaction to a complex sketch that Jeanie is in, and the group is also asked the question "Do you think the show is patriotic or unpatriotic?" The info gets out to the cast and crew, thanks to Ricky and Ron. But even beyond that, an ex-husband is trying to sell a book tells the press about Jordan's drunk driving past. She doesn't have luck with old boyfriends, does she?

The third episode of any show is always an interesting episode. A first episode is always new and exciting; the second episode is a continuation, where you wonder if the second can be as good as the first; and the third is when the viewer says, is this show going somewhere? Are they going to do something different? It's the episode where a new show either has you for good or starts to lose you. Now, Studio 60 had me at hello, but it has me for good after this episode. We learn more about the background of the characters, Ricky and Ron are more prominent, we get to see a little more of the industry stuff that shows go through. A lot of the plot of this ep, the whole thing with the focus group and needing to retain a certain percentage of the previous week's show, that could be said about Studio 60 too.

There is a balancing act that Aaron Sorkin and company have to do with this show. They not only have to write the NBC version of Studio 60, but I can sense that people are going to want to see the NBS version of Studio 60 too. They want to see them PROVE that Matt and Danny are actually helping this show. Now, some of the stuff they've shown as sketches has worked well, and some of it has been sorta SNL-ish and pretty damn bad. Maybe it's Sorkin way of showing that putting together a show like this in just one week is hard work, whether there's a power failure or not (as happens in this ep). This episode actually showed the entire week, how they put the show together, and unlike not showing the "Crazy Christians" sketch last week, we got to see some of the stuff. As I said, some worked, some were just bad ideas (the Tom Cruise reference is already out of date and lame, though Simon Helberg is a talented guy). A lot of it was clever. But I'm beginning to think, is it really fair for us to expect Sorkin and company to create two full shows every single week? NBC's Studio 60 and NBS' Studio 60? Personally, I don't think so. Give us a few sketches here and there, but make the show about the characters at NBS and what happens to them and what happens to the show.

I don't need to see an entire movie being made on Entourage to believe that Vince is a good, successful actor. I'm happy just being in that world with the characters and being entertained.

I could get tedious and just keep repeating the same qualities over and over again, that the show has great writing, a great cast, direction, etc, etc, etc. But even beyond all that, isn't it refreshing to have a TV show that isn't a reality show, a show about a woman who solves crimes and talks to the dead, or has the word CSI or Law and Order in the title? A TV show for adults?

Even people who only think this show is just so-so should still be hoping it succeeds. I happen to love it still, not just for how it does what it does but also because we need a show like this.

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Joel

Okay so here's my take (because I know you've all been breathlessly anticipating it). Sorkin is an extremely talented writer with an incredible cast. Sorkin is also an extremely sanctimonious, inside-the-hollywood-bubble establishment guy. He can write like very few others (Sports Night, early WW) and is probably pretty close to as intelligent as he attempts to convey. But his self importance and contempt for middle America is palpable. Who says intellect only resides in a few chosen metropolitan areas? What proof is there to support the theory that, "everyone who isn't getting Studio 60 is a moron"? Now don't get me wrong, I like the show. As a Christian I think he could lay off lest being seen as too agenda driven, but in his defense- people who buy a gallon of milk should expect dairy. He is who he is and he ain't changin'. I can respect that, but what I have a hard time with is the superior attitude that America is so desperately in need of the truths that only Hollywood can provide. Without the voice of the all knowing entertainment elite the common red state ignoramous would be lost in a sea of idiocy. I don't buy it, I'll keep watching but start giving me a reason to care.

October 05 2006 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Vllilacs

I loved Sportsnight, am a die hard West Wing fan. So far Studio 60 is a winner. We need to stop wanting immediate gratification and let the characters develop.

October 05 2006 at 8:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lin

This is a show for show biz insiders - not the general public. I wanted to like it - but for me there's no there there. Now I see next week's episode will try corraling an audience by showing boobs. How about making the characters - aside from Matt and Danny, whom I do find interesting - people a non-show-biz viewer cares about. Unintentionally funny were Matt's autograph seekers and the to-do about Jordan's DUI and ex-husband's tell-all book. Is the problem with Studio 60 that it is so disconnected from the public - so cocooned in its own little show biz world...

October 04 2006 at 6:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

So what are the ratings? To me they don't seem that good but I don't understand the 6.0/7.2 thing. How many million viewers is it getting? Frankly I think they should just bring back Sports Night and make it an hour. Sports Night you knew was a show because the sets had that feeling to. Studio 60 is trying to hard to make it seem real, which is fine, but the not so real feel of Sports Night worked wonderfully.

October 04 2006 at 9:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dorv

Dave: Just to clarify what I meant (I don't know if you were talking about me or not, but hey, its all good). When I said, "We get it. You don't like it." I didn't mean that I get the show, but I get the fact that people don't like it. This is the third review of the show, and while I haven't checked it, I'd bet we could compare all of the comments, and all of the people that don't like it pretty much commented as such on each post.

October 03 2006 at 10:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Danie

I think it's a testament to the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin that every review (or the ones I've read) written about Studio 60 are equally brilliant.

This is not your run of the mill dramady that will attract the 18 year-old and critics that identify with them, or the procedurals that can't find a full sentence with a maglight. I'm a CSI fan, I admit, and although it's a neat little mystery every week, I so miss the brilliance that can only come from delving into the characters' personality. Awkward one liners about the evidence moves the story forward, but it doesn't move me.

Aaron Sorkin is gifted. There's no other way to describe him. I just hope that the American audience is sophisticated enough to appreciate his talent.

Having said that, Studio 60 didn't come out of the gate exciting me, but the second episode did. (I'd read the first script and that could have had something to do with my attitude towards it--no surprise.) I chuckled through the focus group in the third episode. My experience was on Jordan's side of the glass, and as much as you felt it was the real deal as a previous focus group member, I could relate to her behind the glass. "They don't get it." Agencies (and in a TV show) networks cover their ass. But in the end, it doesn't change much, if anything.

But this is Aaron Sorkin. This is the guy who's raising the bar in television, and that's worth mentioning repeatedly. Whether or not the show survives (and I'm so afraid it will go the way of the critically acclaimed Sports Night), I hope that the American viewer will watch and appreciate the brilliance of Studio 60 and its creator, Aaron Sorkin.

October 03 2006 at 10:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim

My problem with the show is that it -- and especially the characters -- take themselves too seriously. It's hard to imagine Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz being so friggin' sanctimonious backstage about their show's sophomoric humor.

I hope the absurdity of 30 Rock makes it more palatable.

October 03 2006 at 9:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hank

What I don't get is why is Sorkin so desperate to make the show-within-the-show funny? As pointed out by others, his wit does not fit (like Johnnie Cochran may have once said) a typical late night comedy show.

Why not make the show-within-the-show awful but a ratings winner? You know, like SNL. That way Matt and Danny can be seen as heroes rescuing the show, but the lack of artistic satisfaction gives them doubt.

October 03 2006 at 4:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David

I think that the Christians just can't take the jokes, it's ok. When a certain group is getting made fun of they always bitch and moan, it's human nature. This episode did have a lot of Christain and gay jokes to the point I just wanted to roll my eyes. In West Wing they pointed out the truth to poke fun at the Christains, this time it's just lame SNL live jokes. I thought this was supposed to be better than SNL.

October 03 2006 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chaim

I agree about the third show being make or break. For me it's a very close break. I'll watch one more week but I just didn't like this weeks episode. Two big problems for me. One is the sketches SUCK. Like really badly, if your going to do a show about a show, you have to make the faux show seem somewhat passable as real. The science shmience sketch was not only offensive, but horribly unfunny, and in line with the frail state of SNL (yet again) this season. The second thing is Amanda Peet. I do NOT like her character at all and I can't stand her. I had high hopes for this show, but it's looking bleaker every week.

Now Heroes ... well .. that's a much better story!

October 03 2006 at 3:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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