Behind The Scenes, But Not Really:
a comparison of Studio 60 and 30
fall season coming to a close, NBC has invited its viewers
to share an additional hour and a half a week to consider
why Saturday Night Live just isn’t funny anymore.
Now that we’ve had a chance to see what these two shows
have aspired to, it’s time to do some serious comparison.
Studio 60, a new hour-long drama by Aaron Sorkin
(head writer of The West Wing) starring Matthew Perry
(Friends) and Bradley Whitford (West Wing)
has been put up on Mondays at 10pm, accompanied by 30
Rock, a new half-hour comedy written by Tina Fey (star
and head writer of SNL during the last five years
or so) and starring her and Alec Baldwin.
SNL at all...
let’s look at what these shows have in common. They’re
both fictional stories about the production of an SNL-esque
show. They both focus on the role of head writer. Both head
writers have a sort of romantic difficulty. They are both
written by seasoned television writers, and they’re
both on NBC. But that’s about as far as the similarities
an episode of 30 Rock begins, you’re swept
up in a version of New York City that feels slightly inflated
into an almost cartoonish version of itself. The colors
are a little brighter; the clothes are a little cleaner;
it’s almost a toned down version of Ugly Betty.
show is filled with ridiculous caricatures, with Tina Fey
playing the quixotic ringleader straight-man in the eye
of the storm. The show’s co-star Alec Baldwin plays
some sort of network higher-up. He is always wearing a tuxedo
or formalwear, and always has some tightly encoded advice,
which tends to circulate around “pull your own weight”
and “dump that loser boyfriend.” As far as the
show-within-a-show goes, we mostly just see Tina try to
pull her insane cast together enough to get out on stage
60 has a more sophisticated vibe. With its sleek night-logo
and clean theme song it feels more like an episode of 24
than SNL. The first two episodes establish that
the show had grown politically stagnant, and in an effort
to regain their street cred, as her first act as Network
President of “NBS,” Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet)
hires Matt Albie (Matt Perry) as writer and his buddy Danny
Tripp (Bradley Whitford) as producer.
episodes have all taken a trip through some touchy issues,
from gay marriage, racist ghettos, religion, the Iraq War,
to most recently, a touching ode to New Orleans. The show
is composed largely of fast-paced witty banter, arguments,
stereotype bashing, and chasing the muse of the next sketch.
my introductions I’ve no doubt betrayed my opinion.
I find Studio 60 far more enjoyable than 30
Rock. And I’ll explain why.
I watch 30 Rock, I see a lot of madness, but not
madder madness than is on SNL already, and a lot
of it feels self-indulgent. Tina Fey wrote herself into
Saturday Night Live as the only sane person. While
never touching on her writing style, her role here seems
just run into one of her stars, who has some absurd emotional
distress, watch her roll her eyes and give reluctant courtesy
help to these pathetic souls who don’t compare to
her in their commitment or ability.
Studio 60, the characters all have strengths and
weaknesses, and we can see them progress from episode to
episode. There’s a continuum and an evolution, and
it’s all developing. We get to see them tackle big
problems together, with no lack of mocking each other, or
of witty retorts, but at least it isn’t one-sided.
Rock, a mistake a character commits one episode (Botox
injections?) is reset by the beginning of the next episode
without any explanation. Which makes the whole show take
place in this vacuum of duty-free absurdity where the only
problem is an excess of ZANY! It’s like watching a
drunk guy yelling, insisting that what he’s saying
is hillarious, and if he just yells a little louder it’ll
only be funnier.
suspiciously like SNL...
have been some moments, however, when sharing Studio
60 with a friend that I almost felt embarassed for
a scene or two. While around half the show focuses on their
writing issues and intelligent debate, the other half thus
far has rested on a rather simple relationship tug-of-war
between Matt Albie and Harriet Hayes. I’ll sum it
up: Matt is a cynical liberal, while Harriet is a wholesome
Christian. The show used to be great because he saw what
made her beautiful and wrote to impress her, and that made
them both famous. Then she got too Christian by singing
for the 700 Club, and he can’t forgive her, so they’re
probably self-glamorizing. It’s been well discussed
on the internet that Harriet Hayes’s character is
based on Kristin Chenoweth and their relationship while
working on The West Wing. This might just be Sorkin’s
way of saying he ended it because he’s so enlightened,
when we don’t really know how it happened.
during the last Christmas episode has their been an implication
that this dynamic would shift, when they finally kissed,
and Danny told Jordan he loved her after she tested positive
for pregnancy. So it might look like my least favorite dynamic
of the show might be taking a bigger place. Let’s
hope it all keeps moving and interacts with the show-within-a-show.
Because the show is about making the show-within-a-show.
And that’s a lot of fun.
bad Tina Fey doesn’t have any experience writing quality
TV, or her show might be interesting, too.