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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Studio 60 Starts Strong

A powerful opening launched the premiere of NBC’s Studio 60, which just might help stave off the irrelevance of broadcast television for a while. Not quite the replacement for the golden days of West Wing, which the network has hinted at all summer, the first episode suggests it’s a lot closer than most would have thought any show could come.

A behind-the-scenes look at a weekly sketch comedy show, Studio 60 opens with executive producer Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch) finally snapping over the watered-down version of the formerly cutting edge show now entering it’s 20th season. Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet), the newly-promoted president of Studio 60’s fictional network NBS (National Broadcasting System), brings back director Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford) and writer Matt Albie (Matthew Perry), previously fired from the show, to save it.

Plenty of sub-plots will keep this show going, but the truly engaging aspect of the show is that it may actually take on the issues facing television. Sadly, it looks like Hirsch’s character is not a regular on the show, but his rant against T.V. was superb. Finally calling out the idiotic junk targeted at early teens passed-off as “reality” T.V. and networks that cower to the religious right, among other things, he is rewarded with his ouster.

Perry and Whitford are both predictably solid leads in the show. Perry’s character has a past with a star of Studio 60 complicating his life, while Whitford’s character is a recovering addict fighting a recent relapse. Both have stepped into new roles after becoming known in long-running shows, Friends and West Wing respectively, with no problem.

Timothy Busfield plays the control-room director who allows Mendell’s rant to go on. His character was always one you wanted more of on West Wing, and the trend appears ready to continue.

Peete and Steven Weber (who plays Jack Rudolph, chairman of NBS) didn’t do much for me. D. L. Hughley plays a star on the sketch comedy, Simon Stiles, and may be the best minor player on the show.

The one nagging problem with the pilot was the immediacy with which Tripp and Albie were hired. Trying to recreate West Wing-like drama, the subject matter just didn’t call for everything happening in one night. If they leave that alone, and truly challenge what’s currently going on with T.V., creator Aaron Sorkin and producer Thomas Schlamme seem to have made Studio 60 a rare T.V. show worth watching.

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