Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Taking Back The Idiot Box.

Last month the TV series 'Studio Sixty On The Sunset Strip' aired for the first time in the US.

It depicts the 'behind the scenes' production of a live late night comedy show in a similar vein to Saturday Night Live. Created and written by Aaron Sorkin, the man who brought the West Wing to our screens, it boasts an excellent cast, lavish production and sharp dialogue. What could go wrong? A lot. According to some reviews I have read.

It has repeatedly been lambasted as; too pleased with itself, too clever for its own good, self indulgent rubbish et cetera, et cetera. This is discounting the furor it has caused in the right wing religious press. I would post a link to that, however I can't bring myself to connect my blog in any way to those fundamentalist bigots. Needless to say L. Brent Bozell III, the head of the Conservative Communications Center has been having his say.

So why has it been so poorly received by so many in the liberal media? It shares so many of the defining characteristics that made The West Wing so successful. The dialogue is generally superb, (even I will admit that there have been a couple of lines that clunked) the acting is top notch, provided by a dream cast. The characters are believable and multi-layered. The direction, lighting and camera work is faultless.

What is really rubbing people up the wrong way is the fact that Sorkin is attempting to bestow a similar level of importance and idealism onto television as he did with politics in West Wing.

This is what people have a problem with. My question is, why should they?

There has been a fair amount of talk about television in the blogging world of late. Is it relevant? Do people even watch television in the traditional manner anymore? Does television matter?

Television IS important. It is vitally important, even in this digital age when news is readily available online. The reason for this is because even though all this digital news, comment and debate is available to people, so few actually seek it out. Television is still the main route to the masses.

It is the main source of education available today, yet we are being fed a menu of lobotomised rubbish.

So what is wrong with wanting Television to be of a high quality and of a certain level of intelligence? As a friend said to me recently after watching an episode of West Wing, "In the age of reality TV it is refreshing to watch a programme that you know was written by people much smarter than yourself."

This is not always the case, TV need not be 'high-brow', or even 'mid-brow' to be enjoyable, and I will readily admit to enjoying the occasional reality show (not Big Brother I hasten to add). However, why shouldn't we have more television that doesn't insult our collective intelligence?

Why shouldn't we ask for it, or at least allow a television writer such as Sorkin to speak out on our behalf?

I don't know a soul who doesn't wish that the President of The United States was more like Martin Sheen's Josiah Bartlet, so why shouldn't we wish that television was more like 'Studio Sixty'? Why do we buy the ideal in a programme about politics, but not in entertainment?

Here's an edited excerpt from the speech made by a disgruntled 'producer' at the start of the Studio Sixty Pilot...

"This show used to be cutting edge political and social satire, but it's gotten lobotomized by a candy-ass broadcast network hell-bent on doing nothing that might challenge their audience.

There's always been a struggle between art and commerce, but now I'm telling you art is getting is ass kicked, and it's making us mean, and it's making us bitchy, and it's making us cheap punks and that's not who we are."

So why don't we give the people who want to provide us with quality entertainment a chance, and get off their backs? I think that we should let them be clever, for our own good.


ill man said...

The attitude reflected in the quote you provide has been the way of the US networks for many a year. Bill Hicks came up against that very brick wall in the early nineties, not long before his death. You have to get your subversion in by the side-door and even then, theres a dozen L Bent Doubles waiting to denigrate you and tell lies about your work should you pass the censors.

UnderCrackers said...

Well I hope it struggles through ...I loved The West Wing and salivated when I heard about Studio 60....I don't care if Aaron Sorkin is a bit too clever I want it to be clever....I want to have to rewind the DVD and watch the scene again so I get it. Why make it easy?

Wyndham said...

Studio 60 is lame, though. My problem with it is not that it's about television, a subject that audiences are notoriously uninterested in, or that it's highly self-regarding. But my problem is that there's too little dramatic conflict in it. Not enough happens, there's too little at stake. Every week, by the end of the programme, Matthew Perry et al have pulled off another cracker of a satirical show and increased ratings - boring! The trouble is, as US critics have also noted, the sketches are awful. Sorkin had it written into his contract that it couldn't be canned before 13-episodes. With only 7 million watching I'll be surprised if it survives.

Heather said...

Hi Ill Man, seriously, don't get me started on the right wing religious fanatics, I'll never stop. Oh and Bill Hicks was a genius.

Hello Undercrackers, welcome to the blog and thanks for the link. I agree, very rarely can TV be too clever.

Wyndham, in fairness to the show, there's only been 6 episodes so far and several dramatic plotline seeds have already been sown (I won't go into them here as I don't want to present any spoilers).

Personally I love the series, you don't and that's fair enough. My issue wasn't with people disliking it for their own reasons, it was with people putting it down because it's about television. I agree the sketches shown haven't been hysterical, but if people are watching it purely for those then they are missing the point.

As for the ratings war, true they dropped steadily for the first three weeks. However they seem to have finally levelled off and are remaining at a steadily respectable level. This is a good performance from a new show, especially when it's competing against a low-brow heavyweight like CSI for viewers. You must also remember that the highly successful 'The West Wing' took a couple of seasons to reach its peak as a perennial in the Nielsen ratings top 5.

Molly Bloom said...

Part 20

Nancy thought of all the television images she had seen, the faces, the images, the words. She held up the starlight and thought, 'I should rather spend time amongst friends.' And a great light fell upon the earth.

Now go to part 21.

baggiebird said...

H I haven't seen studio 60, but I have to agree that the amount of mind numbingly banal shows on TV at the moment are driving me to distraction. Sometimes it's good to be pushed intellectually. It's nice to have watch a programme that challenges you and provokes discussion. I'm not a fan of reality TV (or as i refer to it car crash TV) I can't quite grasp what's so entertaining about watching someone be humiliated and embarrased, it's not my idea of entertainment.

I look forward to seeing studio 60 when it shows on a chanel near me

Wyndham said...

My favourite show of the new season, Kidnapped, has already been canned so what do I know. But I'm also loving Heroes which is the unquestionable break-out show of the season.

Heather said...

Molly, thanks for including me!

For anyone who may be confused- Molly is doing a virtual treasure hunt, leaving fragments of a story in the comments of different people's blogs. Go and find them all- I have.

Baggie I can't agree more about the state of television at the moment. I hate most reality TV but I always get sucked in to the music programmes like Rockstar and X-Factor. As for the humiliation, well frankly the people who go on the X-Factor auditions who get embarassed are either delusional as to their abilities, or attention seekers who just what on the telly. I rarely feel any pity for them.

Hello again Wyndham, I was really enjoying Kidnapped too, and was sad to hear about it's cancellation, but at least it's getting a 13 episode run albeit in a dead-end Saturday night slot. These American broadcasters really are brutal about pulling things aren't they?

Heroes is without a doubt my absolute favourite of the new season. Can't speak about it highly enough. The characters are brilliant(Hiro especially), the plot progression is fast paced and exciting and the premise is really interesting. I was so happy to hear that it's been picked up for a full season. As a comics fan it is an absolute delight, and as a bonus Isaac's artwork is done by my favourite comics artist Tim Sale.

Molly Bloom said...

This is a brilliant piece of writing Heather I wanted to come back and read it again. You should be writing for a newspaper. I do think television is important. It shapes us and influences us doesn't it? I always think it's interesting having a negotiated choice as well. What we choose to watch says so much about ourselves. If we did have constant viewing of our favourite shows, would be get totally bored though? I almost think it's good to sit through some things we don't like so much sometimes so that we can go back to what we do like. If that makes sense.

Ghost Particle said...

hi...came here from H-E, very nice blog you have here. The articles are thought provoking.

patroclus said...

Nice piece of writing, Heather.

The first ep of Studio 60 was pretty good (especially the bit with the great speech you've quoted). Unfortunately it's been all downhill from there - the characters aren't likeable enough, the supposedly genius comedy sketches aren't funny, and it takes itself wayyy too seriously.

Still, it's just been recommissioned, so it must be doing something right. Or maybe people just want to see Amanda Peet wearing that really nice skirt again.

Inconsequential said...


i still pop in and read, i ought to at least leave a smiley...
now that it's possible to :)

Inconsequential said...

oh, the tv thing?

i seriously recommend turning the tv off...with a baseball bat.

it's the devils tool!

well, maybe not, i just hate the damn opted out.

it's a matter of choice after all :)

Wyndham said...

Studio 60 hasn't been recommissioned - it's had three more scripts ordered.

Yours, Nitpicker.

patroclus said...

I knew someone was going to pick me up on that, W. Oh, the world of telly is so complicated. What's the difference?

(I should know this kind of thing).

homo escapeons said...

Great Post..I love studio 60 and it is going to be cancelled because the American public does not understand high brow comedy mixed in with political commentary...nope they like their sitcoms to be dumb and formulaic.

For the most part I watch Frontline and PBS to learn about our world and then I watch My Name is Earl to laugh and forget about all of the horrible things that I learned about our world on Frontline.