I took advantage of the collaboration between Netflix and NBC and added the pilots of 'Studio 60 Live From The Sunset Strip' and 'Kidnapped' to the top of my queue last week. (Not for me the chance to watch these shows online; I'm still a dialupagus.)
So far I've watched 'Studio 60' and will get to 'Kidnapped' on Sunday.
First off, what's with that title? Sorkin must know nobody's going to use the full thing once the show is launched; it will always be just 'Studio 60'. It would be like if its inspiration was known by its classic opening: 'Live From New York, It's Saturday Night'!
I'm not saying shorter titles are better - sometimes that just leads to confusion if you don't have enough in there to describe the show. How many people out there might be confused as to which network will be broadcasting 'Kidnapped' or 'Vanished'?
But the show itself looks pretty good from the pilot episode. After finally seeing it, I can't see why there were so many people down on it when they first had a chance to see it. Had they only seen excerpts?
I think 'Studio 60' offers the best from both of Sorkin's previous shows. Although he doesn't have the type of world stage available to him in 'The West Wing', a late-night satirical comedy should offer him the kind of forum in which he can tackle the various topics that make up the Big Picture.
Okay, maybe not the plight of women in Equatorial Kundhu. But if presented with that challenge, I'm sure Sorkin would rise up to meet it and succeed.
And as he had shown with 'SportsNight', even on a smaller scale he can delve into those topics which concern him, like racism or sexual harrassment in the workplace.
Plus, since he first did 'SportsNight', he's gained more experience working behind the scenes in TV, having come from a theatrical and cinematic background before that, and that will add plenty of anecdotes upon which he can draw for the smaller stories.
(My favorite small story of 'The West Wing'? The fate of the penny issue.)
As for these new character inhabiting Toobworld, the spotlight was focused mostly on the standins for Aaron Sorkin and director/co-conspirator Thomas Schlamme (although certain characteristics for Sorkin were given to the Schlamme counterpart).
We learned a lot about Matt and Danny, as played by Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, this time out and I would expect each member of this large cast will get their time in the sun eventually. You don't want to overwhelm the audience with too much info right away.
We also got a good fix on the types of characters played by Steven Weber as the boss of the network and Amanda Peet who's newly in charge of running the company. And cast members like DL Hughley must have been clued in as to what's in store for their characters or else they might have passed. (Then again, the chance to work with Sorkin......)
So it's a bit strange that the other character who was really fleshed out was the producer of the late night show, played by Judd Hirsch. Probably his best role in years and he wasn't around for more than ten minutes, I'd think.
I don't think they'll have too much trouble in pulling in the guest stars either, if the pilot was any indication. Ed Asner made a quick appearance near the beginning as the uber-boss of the corporation which owns the network, and Felicity Huffman appeared as herself, hosting that particular broadcast of 'Studio 60'.
This caused a Zonk, of course, as there were several mentions of Ms. Huffman (or as she's coming to be known thanks to Stephen Colbert, Filliam Muffman) being a cast member of 'Desperate Housewives'.
Okay, fine. Toobworld also has a show called 'Desperate Housewives'. We just don't know if it's exactly like the Real World version, nor did we hear who Ms. Huffman plays on that counterpart.
So let's get down, finally, to the main concern of Toobworld......
When the series was first announced and details began leaking out as they progressed, I read somewhere that the TV Network would be "UBS". (As former network president Bill Nickerson proclaimed, "Where we put 'U' before the 'BS'!")
For Toobworld, this would have been fantastic, as I could then link it to not only 'America 2Nite', but also 'Galactica 1980'.
However, it would also put people in mind of the movie "Network" which also had UBS as its fictional TV network. And considering the major plot point which kicks off 'Studio 60' echoes that film, it would have been wrong to tie it even closer by choosing UBS as its name.
(I liked that they addressed the similarity with several mentions of what transpired in the movie.)
So instead they chose NBS - the National Broadcasting System. (Or was it Service?) And of course, the audience will naturally link it to the Real World home for this series, NBC.
I don't trust the intelligence of the average viewer, so I doubt they'll be able to keep it straight in their heads that future events on this show do not reflect what goes on behind the scenes at NBC, or else they might be facing some protestors at the home of the Peacock Throne.
But I hope they do throw mentions of NBS into their other programs on the 2006 schedule, to solidify its presence in the NBC line-up of shows. NBS has more programs than just one late-night comedy show, so we can see the NBS "bug" in the bottom corner of the screen during news stories, talk shows, or even fictional soap operas as seen in episodes of 'Crossing Jordan', 'Las Vegas', 'Medium' or 'ER'. And it doesn't have to be just the dramas, but also the comedies like 'The Office' or 'My Name Is Earl'. Who knows? Maybe even in an episode of '30 Rock', to show there's no problem between the rival series.
All in all, it was a fast-moving episode with signature Sorkin flourishes, but with its own identity to set it apart from its predecessors. And since it will be airing on Mondays at 10 pm, I don't see why I wouldn't be watching it each week starting this fall. (I'm sure 'CSI: Miami' will survive without me.)
One final note: I went into this, even before the chance to see the pilot, with a lot of trepidation about the casting of Bradley Whitford. I thought it was way too soon after the finale of 'The West Wing' to see another weekly collaboration between Whitford and Sorkin.
But I should have trusted their talents. The character of Danny Tripp was light years away from Josh Lyman, and I wasn't even reminded of him once during the episode despite the same actor playing both roles.
Good work all around.