Sorkin understands television... understands it and still loves it. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (the show within the show) is a popular late-night comedy (think SNL) that has seen wittier days and when the executive producer is shot down by the censors and told he can't run a "Crazy Christians" sketch, he loses it on air. He tells viewers to do the unthinkable - to switch off their television sets. The studio audience thinks this is part of a sketch at first, laughing quietly, until it sinks in that this isn't part of their regularly scheduled programming. He criticizes television, referencing The Apprentice and Fear Factor, and suggests that even though we watch it, we're better than that: TV is "making us mean, it’s making us bitchy, it’s making us cheap punks—that’s not who we are."
The idealism at the core of The West Wing is now turned to television itself here. Like the Bartlet presidency, here we find a loyal band dedicated to making good television and we even see a few familiar faces from Sorkin's White House.
Amanda Peet plays Jordan McDeere, the brand-new network president of the National Broadcasting System. She is at a dinner celebrating her first day on the job when she gets the call that all hell has broken loose at Studio 60. Rather than jump into action with wild fury, she coolly assess the situation and uses it for her own plans - she hires back a writing duo that was fired years before who thought the show was going downhill. By rehiring them, she hopes to send the message that Studio 60 (and NBS) is committed to excellence. Poised and in control, we are clearly supposed to like this woman.
The writing team that she hires is composed of Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford). Matt and Danny are best friends and can play off each other with ease. Matthew Perry's Matt still has the Chandler Bing energy and wisecracks, but he is also tempered with experience. Bradley Whitford's Danny is not the same great idealist as Josh Lyman; he looks tired and even while he's preoccupied with keeping an eye on Matt, it's because of Danny that they return to the show. Danny has tested positive for cocaine use and cannot be cleared to direct the movie that he and Matt had planned on doing. Matt's complication lies in the fact that he used to date Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) who is one of the martini-drinking comediennes... and very Christian. While gossip suggests that they broke up over a baseball game wisecrack (when she tells him that the crowd gave her a standing ovation for her rendition of the national anthem, he replies that they were already standing), they broke up because she sang on the 700 Club.
Steven Weber (from Wings) plays the corporate chairman Jack Rudolph who fired the dynamic duo the first time around and tries to bully Jordan into his perspective. Timothy Busfield (Danny, the White House reporter smitten with C.J.) is the director who allowed the Network rant to air for longer than he knew was wise. Nathan Corddry and D.L. Hughley play Tom Jeter and Simon Stiles, respectively, who are two comedians on Studio 60. We'll also be seeing Evan Handler (Harry who married Charlotte on Sex and the City) and a few more West Wing alums.
I think we're going to find that Studio 60 brings Sorkin the same acclaim as Sportsnight and The West Wing. But it's about television, you point out. How much can you do when it's all about television? Given our endless obsession with behind-the-scenes specials and movies, I think there will be ample material to keep this going... particularly when it's Aaron Sorkin, who's willing to poke fun at television as much as he wants to inject his high standards.
Danny Tripp: I have no reason to trust you and every reason notTune in to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on Monday nights.
Jordan McDeere: Why?
Danny Tripp: You work in television.
The NY Times review.
The New Yorker review.