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November 26, 2014

The Five: Aaron Sorkin show trademarks

by Richard Keller, posted Dec 27th 2006 10:57AM

Cast of Studio 60After 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.

HONORABLE MENTION:

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?

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David

Each thing listed grows with each show he does. Sports Night they speak fast but it's not super human and the references are too odd. West Wing moves really fast and the references are fine. Studio 60 is just talknig super fast with references that would make President Bartlet go "What the hell?".

I predict in 2 years when Sorkin makes a new show about the behind the scenes look at a sports bar they will talk so fast we can't understand.

I figured this season Studio 60 will be canceled and then a year break before something new... West Street Night 60 by Mr. Sorkin.

December 29 2006 at 12:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dorv

Again, as I stated in my first comment, I love all of these things. However, my favorite 'Sorkinism' is the use of the term, 'the thing.' The unspoken thing (ha!) that anyone can speak of, and everyone know what you're talking about that.

December 27 2006 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chris w

The walk-and-talk & fast talkers: I agree 100%. I'm relatively new to the Sorkin universe, but these two things have stood out like a "sore thumb". Not that it is bad, but it just seems... too rehearsed. Too "ready to respond."

December 27 2006 at 7:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
C. Hernandez

Like you say, I love the walk-and-talks and the massive chunks of information spat out rapid fire thus enabling many plots in one episode.

I absolutely hate all the dialogue recycling. I was a fairly rabid The West Wing fan and A Few Good Men is one of my favorite movies, and every time I hear a line or phrase or situation that seems to be lifted directly from one of those scripts it completely pulls me out of the Studio 60 moment.

December 27 2006 at 4:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike

The "OK...". In every show, but especially The West Wing and Studio 60, someone will give some shocking or surprising news, and the person they are saying this to will say "OK..." in an accepting way, sort of indicating that they can take anything in stride.

December 27 2006 at 4:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Erika

I love this show - yes, all the characters seem smarter than they should be - but it's still entertaining and witty. I hope they don't cancel it.

December 27 2006 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Diana

Don't forget characters disappearing never to be seen or referenced again. Otherwise known as Mandyville.

December 27 2006 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Hewitt

I wasn't a big watcher of West Wing (Leave it to me to avoid the one successful Sorkin show) but I can definitely say that one element of Sports Night that I am seeing repeated on Studio 60 is the gruff boss who turns out to be a sweetheart. In SN, Isaac Jaffe started out as a pretty hard-line boss but turned into a lovable father figure. Now we have Jack Rudolph turning from the insensitive jerk of a boss who forced Danny and Matt off the show the first time into the noble Network President who is willing to risk his job for both people and principals.

December 27 2006 at 3:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark Rabinowitz

Sorkin (almost) always has a character named Dan, Daniel or Danny:
Tom Cruise is Daniel Kaffee in "A Few Good Men"
Josh Charles is Dan Rydell in "Sports Night"
Timothy Busfield (another recurring Sorkin actor) is "Danny Concannon in "West Wing"
Bradley Witford is Danny Tripp in "Studio 60"
And BTW, Sorkin didn't produce either A Few Good Men or The American President. He wrote them, only.

December 27 2006 at 3:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brent McKee

Felicity Huffman also appeared in an episode of "The West Wing".

December 27 2006 at 2:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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