Flawed and frustrating as it was, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was the perfect show for live-blogging and it's no wonder those of us who showed up on Monday nights for our regular Snark on Sorkin Fest last TV season had such a good time.
For one thing, while Studio 60 wasn't anywheres close to being a great show, it wasn't all that bad. It failed, but it failed intelligently. Week in and week out, things went wrong because some very smart people---producer and writer Aaron Sorkin mainly---made the wrong choices or were too smart for their own good and wrote themselves out of scenes, off the TV screen, and into the op-ed pages, or tried something they couldn't pull off---unfortunately, that was usually comedy---or simply stumbled.
Episodes tended to include too little of something or somebody or too much. There weren't ever enough scenes for Steven Weber's Jack Rudolph, Action Executive, there was too little of Matt and Danny actually dealing with putting their show on the air, too few plots involving Timothy Busfield as Cal the director, DL Hughley was often close to invisible, and there was too little of the Brit Chick writer until there was too much of her, after she was turned into a mooning love interest for Nat Corddry's inexplicably devastating to women Tom Jeter, of whom there was always too much. There was too much speechifying and not enough real dialog. Too much backstory. Too much current politics that was irrelevant to the plot hammered into the plots. Too, too much of Edward Asner growling "Macau," a sound that still haunts my nightmares and wakes me up screaming in the night.
There was too much of Amanda Peet being funny ways that undermined her character's supposed authority and competence, too much of her being a winsome little girl lost when her character got swallowed up in Danny's narcissistic obsession with her, which could have been an interesting plot development, except that Aaron Sorkin seemed to think that Danny in full-stalking mode was as romantic and tragic a lover-hero as Romeo or Cyrano de Bergerac.
And of course there was too much of Matt and Harriet's romance, but that was mainly the fault of there being too much of Sarah Paulson who was wildly miscast as a stand-in for Aaron Sorkin's lost love, Kristin Chenoweth, and sadly misused week in and week out as a stick for Sorkin to use to beat up on both conservative Christians and liberals who were as intolerant of conservative Christians as Sorkin himself obviously is.
But the acting was almost always excellent (with one notable exception. Cough cough Paulson cough cough.) and the production values were top drawer and individual episodes were well-paced and well-directed. The many characters and the multiple plot threads gave us a lot to follow and root for. This blog became headquarters for the Jack Rudolph, Action Executive Fan Club. Just about every episode included several terrific lines and at least one well-crafted scene in which at least one of the cast members got to shine.
So there was always hope.
There was always the chance that if not in this week's episode then in next week's, Sorkin would find his footing, that he would hand off more of the writing to others who wouldn't be as obsessed with politics and Kristin Chenoweth as he was and who would figure out which characters and actors were best to write for, which plotlines were most promising. I honestly think that if NBC had renewed Studio 60 that's what would have happened. Good shows have historically taken a couple of seasons to become good.
There were reasons, then, to watch Studio 60 for its own sake and not just to make fun of it. The show itself has to be enjoyable, at least to a degree, for the live-blogging to be enjoyable.
And Studio 60 gave us lots to think about and talk about. I don't mean the political and social issues too many episodes sidetracked themselves trying to illuminate. I mean things directly related to the pleasures of watching a television show, questions about what makes a good story, how is a scene or a plotline developed, what makes for good acting, what can be done by the producers of a show already on the air to correct mistakes that were made at the casting stage (cough Paulson cough) or in the first few episodes. That last one's a good question for Ken Levine. I think I'll email him and ask him how he tried to handle that one on AfterMASH.
Finally, though, what made Studio 60 ideal for live-blogging was its biggest flaw---Aaron Sorkin took forever to develop his plots and story arcs. Whole episodes could go by without the ball being moved more than a yard or two down the field. This meant that you didn't have to pay close attention to every minute of every show. You could take your eyes away from the TV screen to look at your computer screen and type your comments and read other people's comments and when you looked back you'd find that you hadn't missed anything important.
You could also miss an episode or three and come back and not be behind. In other words, since the show didn't require a week in and week out commitment, neither did joining in the live-blogging, which is good, because I didn't want it to turn into homework, for you or for me.
At any rate, I didn't have any solid plans to live-blog another show this season. I had fun doing Studio 60 and I thought if I could find another show that promised to be as fun to live-blog I'd give it a try. So I looked over the fall schedule, searching for a show that didn't look awful (Sorry, Bionic Woman), had a large ensemble cast and multiple story lines, was on one of the broadcast networks (not everyone has cable and not everyone who has cable subscribes to one of the premium channels, so as much as I'd like to live-blog Dexter, it along with everything else on HBO and Showtime is out. Sorry, Mr Wolcott, that does include The Tudors, whenever that returns), and was slotted at a time and on a day when the most number of people could tune in (Ugly Betty's on at 7 Central time, way too early, and it's on Thursday nights when I'm not home and if I was I'd be watching Smallville. We tape My Name is Earl and 30 Rock).
By process of elimination, but also by the dictates to personal enthusiasm, the only show that I think fits the bill is Heroes.
Good show. Many characters. Multiple plots. Not too deep but not too frothy (which is another strike against Ugly Betty). Lots of humor, sex, thrills, spills, excitement, and gruesome violence, plus some over the top plot twists and really dumb dialogue.
The only problem I foresee is that if this season's as exciting as last season I may get too caught up in actually watching the show and forget to type about it.
First episode of the new season is on tonight, 9 PM Eastern, 8 Central.
If you didn't watch the show last season and didn't spend the last couple of weeks watching the DVDs nonstop as some people in this house did, don't worry. You'll be able to catch up pretty quickly.
So join us, please, to find out what's happening to everybody's favorite hero, Hiro, who when we last saw him was lost several hundred years in the past and caught between two charging armies of Samurai warriors...