The Five: Aaron Sorkin show trademarks
After viewing the frighteningly accurate parody of Studio 60 that MADtv performed I got to thinking (which is always a bad thing). I can't remember a producer/creator of any television show in recent history who has carried so many of his or her trademarks from one program to another. I guess you could say Dick Wolf does this from show to show, but the Law & Order series is probably considered a franchise. Aaron Sorkin has produced three different shows that have had similar structural elements, including actors and actresses. When viewers watch these shows they anticipate those features and are disappointed when they don't see them.
So, with that in mind, here are the five trademarks that Aaron Sorkin puts in his shows.
The walk-and-talk: Others shows have people walking and talking all of the time, but usually slowly down a straight hallway. Aaron has taken this concept and perfected it, making it all his own. His walk-and-talks feature characters going up-and-down stairs, through security gates, behind bleachers, and around corners. He sometimes makes these strolls seem like a relay race: two people will talk for a while, then one person will tag-out and a new conversation will begin with another character. Meanwhile, as they walk they begin and end conversations with so much information that you need to record the show so you catch everything missed. And, speaking about those conversations . . .
Fast talkers: Yes, Gilmore Girls and Scrubs have their fast talkers, but no one can pack dialog into a one hour program like Sorkin and his writers. Characters in his shows speak in machine gun bursts of conversation. Sometimes they only say one or two words to each other that actually speak volumes. Many times a character belts out a practical soliloquy in a span of 20 or 30 seconds. If anything it's economical because this allows for the maximum amount of plot to be added for each program. Now, about those who start those quick bursts of conversation . . .
Characters display freakish recall of obscure facts and literature: It's like they're all channeling Dennis Miller!Look, I know a little about a lot, and I retain a good portion of what I hear. But, by God, these characters all have photographic memories! How many of your friends can spout bible quotes, or references to when Jesus was born, or what Socrates said at any given time. Gosh, West Wing's President Bartlett was constantly rattling off all kinds of references, and he had a nation and world to worry about. For once, I'd like there to be a character who will quote Homer Simpson saying 'D'oh' rather than quoting the Greek poet Homer.
Hiring from within: Please, this could be a separate post on its own. There are creators and producers out there who have a set of players they rely on and use at regular intervals. But, it seems that Aaron uses everyone who has ever had a line on one of his programs (once again, he's economical). For instance, Bradley Whitford, who plays Danny Trip on Studio 60 was Josh Lyman on the recently canceled The West Wing. Matthew Perry, Matt Albie on Studio 60, guest-starred on The West Wing. Felicity Huffman starred in Sorkin's ABC comedy Sports Night and she guest-starred in the pilot of Studio 60 . The most reused actor it seems is Joshua Malina. He was on West Wing, Sports Night, and Sorkin-produced movies The American President and A Few Good Men. I expect him to be cast on Studio 60 any day now.
Even the most conservative characters seem to lean towards the left: Maybe it's me, but in the seven seasons that The West Wing was on the air I never really saw a hard-line conservative. There were conservative representatives, that's for sure, but they all seemed to lean more towards the middle than the extreme right. Heck, Alan Alda portrayed a Republican presidential candidate who was definitely towards the middle. The same thing can be said for characters on Studio 60, in particular Harriet Hayes. She's a devout Christian who isn't quite as conservative as one thinks.
He uses his shows as a podium to express his personal feelings: Heck, why have a show if you can't inject some of your personal opinions into it. He's not the only one who does this, of course. David E. Kelly, creator of shows like The Practice and the current ABC dramedy Boston Legal does this all of the time. In the case of Boston Legal he uses the closing arguments of attorney Alan Shore to sum up his feelings. However, Kelly isn't as, um, heavy-handed as Sorkin can be. Just look at The West Wing and the first few episodes of Studio 60.
Bosses always yelling for their assistants: White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry always yelled loudly for his assistant Margaret every time he needed help. Josh Lyman was the same way when he needed assistance from Donna Moss. Just recently Matt Albie was shouting for his new assistant's attention. Don't any of these people know how to use an intercom?