October 31, 2006

One hit does not equal a franchise

The past couple of months have shown that writing one incredible television show does not forever make you a television genius.

My case studies are the best show ever committed to television – The West Wing – and its poor imitation, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which is facing imminent cancellation in the United States.

The West WingBoth are written by Aaron Sorkin, both are about the inside workings of a powerful empire, they share much of the cast and crew and are filmed on the very same acreage.

Yet Studio 60 has been a fairly colossal flop considering its production costs.

There are two reasons for this. One is that the premise didn’t work. Television executives aren’t sexy, no matter how hard you try to make them so. They are simply arrogant. Pretending they are high-minded, literate and well-versed in the classics does not make for good drama.

Studio 60And secondly, you cannot repeat the success of one television show simply by reusing the same scripts. All of the cliches from The West Wing (especially walking-and-talking) have been used to death in the first six episodes alone. When it’s in the halls of the most powerful building on earth, it’s forgivable. When it’s a television studio, it’s not.

Inevitably when the show is cancelled, Sorkin will claim it’s a victory for commerce over art. But it’s not.

As much as I want to love this show – the cast is brilliant and the dialogue pretty good – the drama is simply implausible.

I suspect Sorkin will decide not to go near network television for a good few years. But can I suggest to him a new subject matter that could be right up his street, and might just get people watching?


We’re an interesting lot, really!

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Hero


    One needs to remember that if the show were to work in a British context, the studio would need to be filled with vacuous members of the professional middle classes, mostly girls, mostly with no understanding of technology or science, or maths or money, or even what is reasonable cool, who are only really there because they are the only social groups whose parents can afford the cost of working for nothing, whilst people with real talent are forced to work elsewhere so that they can eat.

    01 Nov 2006, 09:20

  2. Adam

    Because maths and money are really important for working in a tv studio. And besides its still a male dominated industry.

    01 Nov 2006, 17:24

  3. You should check out Sorkin’s first show, ‘Sports Night’. It’s even more like Studio 60 than The West Wing, especially given it’s set behind the scenes of a TV show. While I agree with what you say I’m still enjoying Studio 60: it’s not realistic, and no-one really talks that way, but that’s a stylistic choice that gives a certain rythmn to the dialogue in much the same way Shakespeare has everyone talking in iambic pentameter.

    My only problem with the show is that the show within the show isn’t funny. And as an occasional comedy writer that’s particulary jarring.

    03 Nov 2006, 15:42

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