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A Look Back: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

"Look, I hate Los Angeles just like everybody else, but I have to work here because in any other part of the country I'd be unemployable."- Matthew Perry as Matt Albie in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

In the fall of 2006, fresh off a successful seven-season run for television's The West Wing, creator and writer Aaron Sorkin launched his next project. With an all-star cast in place, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was set to be a huge follow-up for Sorkin.

If you've never heard of it, there's likely a good reason. The show only ran for one season.

Studio 60 was centered on a behind-the-scenes look at the production of a weekly, live sketch comedy show. 

If that sounds familiar, it's because NBC also launched a little show called 30 Rock at the same time. While the Tina Fey creation lasted seven seasons and was lauded critical acclaim, Studio 60 did not make it past 2007.

What happened?

The talent for Studio 60 was present. The show starred Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Steven Weber, Amanda Peet, Sarah Paulson, and D.L. Hughley, to name a few among many. 

The show had the same whip-smart dialogue, walk and talk scenes, and pivotal, current themes that Sorkin is known for.

Truth be told, it's biggest downfall was that people thought it wasn't The West Wing.

Would Studio 60 been better served if it had premiered within the last few years rather than immediately following the success of The West Wing? Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, network and cable television, and other streaming services, Studio 60 might have found a better hope among today's drama filled landscape.

On top of that, fans might have better embraced the slightly melodramatic back episodes and not turned their noses at the political story lines they at first demanded.

Recently, I re-watched the one season of Studio 60. While I liked the show back when it aired in 2006-07, I found myself really diving into this show again. Much like Sorkin's pre-West Wing attempt at television with Sports Night (Josh Charles nails it), Studio 60 is an underappreciated role of its time.

The show covered themes still prevalent in today's world. Wars in the Middle East. A president ripe for satire. Hollywood versus the conservative far right.

Episodes featured characters dealing with women in power, a producer fighting back against censors (it's how the series begins), drug addiction, religious rights, and, more topical at the time, the displaced people from New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina.

It also made me pause and think: What if this show lasted, say, five seasons? How would have today's present television/film landscape changed because of it? Let's look at a few examples:

Aaron Sorkin

Five years of writing a show, in addition to the previous seven  he'd just finished up on, might have prevented him writing this modern era classic:

Sarah Paulson

Paulson was fairly unknown at the time Studio 60 premiered. She played one of the three major stars of the show within the show. Her acting was superb, a preview into work in future years in the American Horror Story anthology and her Emmy-winning turn as Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson.

There is a good chance, though, none of that would have happened if Paulson had done five seasons of Studio 60. She was outstanding as Clark and one of the reasons I turned into AHS for parts of four seasons. (The first season was still the best.)

Simon Helberg

Helberg was a supporting player on Studio 60 so it's entirely possible he may have not returned beyond season one. If he did, though, America would be seeing a different Howard on The Big Bang Theory. And maybe the cast dynamic would have never been the same, forcing the show off the air after one season. If only that were true.

These three are simply just a taste. And it happens all the time in Hollywood so I won't go pretending this shift is something new. Over the last ten years, though, to see so many pop culture favorites that could have been affected is an interesting aspect to the failure of Studio 60. (This isn't even talking about The Odd Couple remake with Perry.)

For fans of Sorkin, if you somehow missed out back in 2006, it's time to take a look at Studio 60. It can be hard, especially with so many good, new shows premiering each day, to watch (or re-watch) something from the past.

If you are fans of any of these actors, though, take the time. It's like looking back at another one season wonder, Freaks and Geeks. It's entirely possible, especially over the past ten years, to let a good show slip through the cracks. For all the fans of Breaking Bad, there are many that missed, during the same time, the spectacular Timothy Olyphant vehicle Justified.

Studio 60 may have not won tons of awards, like the West Wing, or received the critical acclaim of 30 Rock. Even in the pantheon of television history, one day it will be lost forever and not go down as one of the greats. For now, though, take the time and enjoy it for what it is: Sorkin at his best and the stories and cast to back him.


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