Welcome to Sork of July!
Who doesn't love Aaron Sorkin? The guy is prolific and always seems to be working on something. He's got his own tropes and cliches. He is a force of nature.
And so we at Fission Spaghetti have decided to devote the month of July to Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. While it may not be Sorkin at his best, it's the Sorkin we cut our teeth on.
Episode Title: Pilot
Host & Musical Guest: Felicity Huffman & Three 6 Mafia
# of references to the infamous “cut sketch”: 7
Sketches Referenced: 2 – a controversial cut sketch and Peripheral Vision Man.
Sketches Shown: 1 - The aborted White House cold open.
Pop Culture References: Vague reference to reality shows and one pointed reference to Donald Trump.
So the show starts with Studio 60 cast member warming up the studio audience and giving the viewing audience a primer on Studio 60; it’s celebrating it’s 20th anniversary and it’s a pop culture touchtone.
Meanwhile Wes, the guiding hand of Studio 60 is arguing with Jerry, a guy from network Standards and Practices, about cutting a sketch. Wes thinks it’s funny and should stay, Jerry thinks it will do nothing more than offend people. There’s a back and forth before Wes backs down.
The show begins with a cold open involving George W. Bush being stupid. Wes walks onto the set, dismisses the cast and goes into a rant about the celine of Studio 60, the weakness of television networks and willingness of the viewong public to just accept it all. And he does this on live television.
Naturally Jerry, the network suit (seriously, is there anything worse than a network suit?) rushes to the control room to get them to cut the feed, the boom, something. Cal, who runs the control room gives Wes as much time as he can, but eventually Jerry’s threats of Cal’s unemployment cause Wes to be cut off.
Then we meet Jordan. She’s the new President of Entertainment Programming for NBS and she’s at a dinner party with people such as Jack Rudolph the chairman of NBS and Wilson White who is the chairman of the Tunney Media Group, which owns NBS. They’re congratulating her on joining “the family” while also running down a list of her accomplishments (she’s good at what she does). So when everyone starts getting calls about Wes’ meltdown, it’s kind of a buzzkill.
Jack and Jordan run down to Studio 60 to assess the damage. While Jack watches tape of the meltdown, Jordan goes to Wes and asks about the cut sketch. See, Jordan is compassionate; she’s not your typical network suit. Of course Jack comes in and ruins the moment by firing Wes.
At a hastily put together meeting Jordan, Jack and various other network representatives try to figure out what their next move is. This scene is where the concept of Studio 60’s Big 3 (Harry Hayes, Tom Jeter and Simon Stiles) is introduced. Jordan shows off how confident and unafraid she is by not only going toe-to-toe with Jack, but also by convincing him to do something he’s completely opposed to doing; rehiring Matt Albie and Danny Tripp.
Who are Matt Albie and Danny Tripp? Fortunately they get introduced next. See they’re at the Writer’s Guild Awards, because the film they made (Matt wrote and Danny directed) is nominated. Matt’s a little loopy because he had back surgery and is hopped up on pain pills. It’s here we find out that a) Matt and his girlfriend broke up b) his ex is part of Studio 60’s cast c) she’s Harriet Hayes, one of the aforementioned “Big 3” and d) that he’s not quite over her.
We also get the story of how they broke up.
While Matt his accepting his award, Danny’s personal assistant Blair informs Danny Jordan wants to meet him in regards to the Studio 60 fiasco.
Meanwhile at the Studio 60 wrap party, Harriet gets prepped about her response to the controversial cut sketch. Harriet spots Cal, who is seriously worrying about losing his job and comforts him. She also promises to pray for him, because, y’know, she’s Christian with a capital C.
Harriet makes her way over to where Simon and Tom are lounging. For some reason resident Studio 60 impressionist Alex is allowed to hang with the Big 3, which sort of undermines the nickname of “The Big 3.” Anyway, the controversial sketch comes up again, as do Danny and Matt, and the consensus is that everyone still misses them.
The wrap party also gives us a couple hints at the inner workings of Studio 60. First we get a peek at the hierarchy, which newbie Dylan mocks Harriet’s preshow prayer ritual and is promptly put in his place. The second is when The Big 3 deduce that the controversial sketch was probably written by Wes, because there’s no way it could have been written by Ricky and Ron.
Danny and Jordan meet up in a hotel room and she totally propositions him, but not in that way. First she proposes that they go to Cabo for the weekend, as a joke. But then she seriously offers Matt and Danny the reins of Studio 60. At first Danny’s too proud even listen, but then Jordan reveals her trump card; Danny failed a drug test and thus can’t direct the next Danny and Matt feature film.
Danny’s understandably shocked and angered. But he immediately wants to be the one to tell Matt, who is totally out of the loop. Danny finds Matt, who responds with concern about his friend falling off the wagon. But then Matt gets angry (see, he’s the quick tempered one) and rushes off to give those network suits a piece of his mind.
While defending Danny, he actually gives Jack a bit of leverage in terms of the Studio 60 deal. We also learn about the bad blood between Danny, Matt and Jack; he fired them four years ago and it involved patriotism. Danny storms off, but Matt tells Jack that they’ll take the deal.
Matt wanders the halls of Studio 60 and bumps into Harriet. Venting ensues. She’s mad that he’s lying about why they broke up. She’s mad that she supported him and his movie career but he didn’t support her singing career. He points out that he stopped supporting her after she appeared on Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club. Evangelicals and compared to klansmen and there’s a slap.
But then the controversial sketch rears it’s head again; Harriet supported it all week long and it was called “Crazy Christians.” Whoa.
Danny and Matt have a heart to heart about their future and sobriety. Jordan finds them and lays down some guidelines most importantly they have to keep the still unseen Ricky and Ron as co-execs because they’re under contract, which gives them $15k per episode.
Jordan then professes her love for the controversial cut sketch and it’s revealed that, shocker, it was written by Matt four years before he left the show. An even bigger shock; Jordan suggests that they open with it next week. Maybe she’s not a network suit after all?
The show ends with Matt and Danny heading to the stage to meet the cast and crew.
My Take: It’s a pretty solid pilot. Characters and relationships are well established and we get a good feel of the world of Studio 60 and the various spheres it inhabits. We get meet characters that range from the head of a media conglomerate to a Studio 60 PA.
I guess the only thing that struck me as odd was having Simon as the audience warm up guy. Why would your audience warm up guy be a member of the cast, much less one of the Big 3?