Friday, February 9, 2007


I promised myself that I was through with writing about 'Studio 60'. And as far as trying to shoehorn it into Toobworld, that's true. I still watch it, and will probably do so to the bitter end (i.e. through the whole season).

But even though I called quits on writing about it, there is still this one little thing that's been bothering me.....

Viewers who watch 'Studio 60' with knowledge of the behind-the-scenes situations have realized that Aaron Sorkin has used a lot of the characters to work out his own relations and sometimes even seek revenge on those he feels who wronged him.

Just ask Kristen Chenoweth, Maureen Dowd, Ricky Cleveland, or any number of cat-loving, pajama-clad bloggers.

So there was a subplot over the last few weeks that really got me steamed, because I felt that Sorkin was taking the wrong side on the issue.

Cast member Simon was giving the new writer grief, just because Darius didn't want to write the sketch Simon suggested. He told Darius that he was forgetting his place in the heirarchy of the show. Simon tried to lay a guilt trip on him, saying that Darius owed him his job.

Which really wasn't true - Simon dragged Matt to a comedy club to see some other black comic. It was Matt who recognized that Darius was the one with the talent which could be used by the show.

Simon also acted superior over Darius, calling him an overseer and "Chicken George". But the plantation slave analogy doesn't work in this case. Darius would have been comparable to the lowly field worker, doing the hard labor, while Simon would have more in common with the house servant, leading the "good life" in the Big House.... that is, as a visible, celebrated member of the cast making the big bucks.

I have to figure that most of the audience watched those scenes like I did - by the time it was resolved, I wanted Darius to punch Simon's lights out (since I couldn't do it myself).

And yet Sorkin seems to have written it with his sympathies clearly on Simon's side, and with Darius contritely accepting that he had been in the wrong. Passing that script to Simon for his approval of a joke, Darius might as well have been kissing his ring for forgiveness.

Any other writer would have realized that audience sympathy would be in Darius' corner. So why would Sorkin want to alienate the audience by forcing them to identify with Simon?

It's just my opinion, but I think he was only concerned with his own viewpoint and be damned with everybody else watching. (Pretty much how he's treated the entire run of the show, actually.)

So it got me thinking - what if he was once again drawing on personal experience to create an analogy for something he had gone through? If so, this had to be more of an example of Sorkin seeking revenge rather than just working through a previous relationship.

There's no way I'm going to prove this, but it could be that the basis in reality stems from the time when "In Excelsis Deo", an episode of 'The West Wing', won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series in 2000. (It also won the 2000 Humanitas Prize and was nominated for the WGA WGA Laurel Award or Outstanding Achievement in Television Writing for Episodic Drama in 2001.)

There were two names on that Emmy award - Sorkin's and Ricky Cleveland.

Up on the stage, Sorkin made the acceptance speech, filling out the time so that Cleveland didn't get the chance to say anything. He got the opportunity two months later in an article he wrote for the Writer's Guild magazine.

He told of how the subplot in "In Excelsis Deo" about Toby Ziegler getting a homeless vet buried in Arlington was somewhat autobiographical, as his own father was a Korean vet who lost everything to alcoholism and spent his last few years living in flophouses.

According to Ricky Cleveland, he was upset with Sorking for not allowing him time to say a few words during the presentation because Sorkin "has an actor's vanity about his work".

Had it remained just that article in the WGA magazine, Sorkin could have easily ignored it, knowing that most people would never hear about it. But then Bernard Weintraub of the New York Times wrote about the incident in June of 2001.

Weintraub alleged that Sorkin created ill will with his staff of writers for taking credit on every story that came up for 'The West Wing' and that he only doled out co-writing credits to the others as some kind of token. According to Weintraub's article, even though Cleveland asked permission to say something at the awards show in his father's memory, Sorkin ignored him when the time came.

Sorkin responded on a web site, claiming that most of that script was all his idea and that Cleveland's only contribution was finding the business card in the pocket. He probably didn't expect those comments to get noticed either, because Cleveland shot back that one need only go to the WGA archives online to find his drafts of the script and see how much of that storyline actually came from him.

And Cleveland also pointed out that a lot more of that script came from him as well; and that it's the WGA who determines who gets credit on the script, that Sorkin didn't just "give" him a handout.

Sorkin backtracked in an attempt to make peace. "I was simply responding, not thinking that there were more than a dozen people in teh room," he told the Washington Post. To the TV Guide, he said, "I'd gone below the belt in assassinating his work."

But I think the enmity towards Ricky Cleveland remained, as did his hatred towards the Internet for being as powerful as it had become. He still carried those grudges over into 'Studio 60', where he created a hack comedy writer named Ricky Tahoe and also got in several jabs against those willing to espouse their opinions on the Internet. (He seems to act as if their opinions shouldn't count for as much as his.)

But even though he sent Ricky Tahoe packing from the show, banishing the avatar for Ricky Cleveland, I think Sorkin still can't let go of his feelings about the matter. However, instead of using his main stand-in, Matt Albie, this time, he chose to work out his resentment through Simon and Darius. (Seems kind of odd to time it so that the storyline [hopefully!] concluded during Black History Month, considering how offensive Simon's attitude was.)

And just to make sure that we know Sorkin sides with Simon, he had Matt, his usual stand-in, act in collusion with Simon by making sure Darius saw the hate mail that Simon gets from viewers. I get the impression that Sorkin wants his writers to be grateful, subservient, and beholden to him for the scraps he gives them.

Thank you kindly, Massa!

But that's just me. I could be wrong......


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