Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Late Great Studio 60.

Dear American Television Viewers,

Last fall I fell in love with a new show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I wrote in Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,

1. I liked what I saw and feel that more shows should be like this, not a copy of this show but something that goes along with the spirit of the above (Judd Hirsch as Wes Mendell in the show’s pilot) rant.

2. I also have to ask those who are accusing the show as being Anti-Christian to count all the Christian characters you see on TV. Then with your other hand count how many Christian characters are presented in a positive light on TV.

3. My hope is that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip becomes the next great water cooler show. Unlike other water cooler shows where people just talk about what the characters did, here we can shift topic of conversation to the issues discussed on the show. This show could be bigger than The West Wing, if Aaron Sorkin is kept in charge and left alone to do his job.

My Hollywood Friends and I loved the show, but right after singing it's praises they would always end with, "It will do well in L.A. and New York but middle America, especially the Bible Belt wont get it". I would remind my Hollywood friends of my summer travels throughout Middle America with my wife Donna performing our show Guess Who's Coming To... at Fringe Theatre Festivals in Kansas City, Minneapolis and Indianapolis. I wrote about our travels in an article titled The people from Iowa where I stated,

1. This grouping of people was always empowered with setting the standard for what is acceptable in our creative pursuits and our dayjobs. Even though I know that there is absolutely no difference between catering to the mainstream and selling out to the lowest common denominator I want to have a marketable product.

2. We also mentioned that since we (Donna and I) both have the same commercial agent we would go out on calls together for McDonalds, Sears or some other American Institution. We’re there to read for the same spot. However when we arrive we’re split. Donna gets paired up with the Danzel clone and If I am seen as white I may be paired off with a Caucasian wife or if am seen as Latino I will be matched up with someone of color but there's a lot of cream in the coffee. The fine line between JLo and Beyonce. In the America of McDonalds & Sears, nobody marries outside of their own race. Why? Because someone on Madison Ave. feels that Middle America is not ready for us.

3. My point here is that we have come a long way and still have a long way to go. It might help us get there if the creative people on both coasts spend some time in the Fly-Over States instead of just pandering to them or who we think they might be.

When I defended the people from Middle America, The Bible Belt, Iowa, Red States, Fly-Over States or as Donna likes to call it, Oklabama, my Hollywood friends looked at me like I just drank the Kool-Aid.

Apparently my Hollywood friends were right and I was wrong about Middle America. Perhaps the talented people who I got to know on our tour represented a small minority of people who want to see good writing and acting on TV. Some don’t even watch TV. Maybe when Middle America saw Wes Mendell in the first few minutes of the pilot saying, "Ah, it’s not going to be a very good show tonight and I think you should change the channel. Change the channel. Right, right now. Turn off the TV ok" Middle America took him literally and turned their TVs off. Maybe Wes was right when he said, "There is a struggle between art and commerce. Well there has always been a struggle between art and commerce. Now, I’m telling you, art is getting its ass kicked. And it’s making us mean. And it’s making us bitchy". Perhaps Middle America didn’t want to see Hollywood bitch. Maybe Wes’s comment, "And the two things that make them scared gutless are the FCC and every psycho religious cult that gets positively horny at the very mention at a boycott" opened a Pandora’s box that put the show on so many hit lists that it was doomed from the start. Often being on numerous hit lists results in millions of dollars in free publicity, but this time it was not the case. Speaking of "psycho religious cults" I find it strange that we never saw the "Crazy Christians" skit on Studio 60, but the mere idea of a "Crazy Christians" skit outraged some religious people. Some religious people were offended by the depiction of a Christian character Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson) who was not their brand of Christian even though I know Christians in Hollywood just like her. I can’t blame Aaron Sorkin for doing what NBC wanted him to do. I do not blame NBC for taking the show off the air, I feel that they had faith in this project and gave it every possible chance. NBC will also air the remaining episodes on Thursday nights at 10 PM. I feel the blame lies with Middle America not knowing quality programming when they see it (I say this with apologies to the fans of the show who live in Middle America). I can’t help but take it personally after I defended Middle Americans to my Hollywood friends. This year several of my favorite shows were canceled (George Lopez, Crossing Jordan, Andy Barker P.I., Jericho and Raines). It’s hard not to take Studio 60’s cancellation personally either. All my life whenever one of my favorite TV shows was canceled I was told it was because nobody was watching it. Well I was watching, but my tastes were never in line with Middle America’s. I wonder if Middle America truly realizes the power they have.

To be fair and in the interest of full disclosure I did say in my article Never Judge a Show by it’s Pilot: 30 Rock,

"After attending various networking functions and constantly being told by many network comedy development heads all saying they do not want "Behind the scenes" shows (Please don't ask me to name names.), but every fall I still see new "Behind the scenes" shows. Some feel that this is because Hollywood's new young writers have never worked outside the entertainment industry so they write what they know. Others feel that those who work in Hollywood think that their lives and jobs are just so interesting that everyone in America will find their lives and jobs just as interesting (Again please don't ask me to name names.)"

Every fall we still see new "Behind the scenes" shows. Some of these shows hit and others miss. My wife pointed out to me that classic situation comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show was more about the life of Mary Richards than a behind the scenes look at television newsroom. Perhaps we should study past "Behind the scenes" to see what worked, what didn’t and what shows were just ahead of their time. Or perhaps I am over thinking all of this. Maybe Middle America expected a behind the scenes look a late night comedy show to have more laughs.

To quote Tina Fey at the Writers Guild Awards, "I hear Aaron Sorkin is in Los Angeles wearing the same dress - but longer, and not funny."

Stay Tuned


Tony Figueroa

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony, it's Dean. I watched them cut down the last steel girders of that beautiful set and I wondered if anyone in television would ever take another chance like that again. Such a shame, all that work and all those people out of work too. Just a BIG bummer.

Richard T said...

Superior writing. Wonderful characters. Much bigger than just about TV. How is it that we can have 43 flavors of forensics shows (all some variation of vanilla)--a job that very few do? Yet shows about the TV biz, which employs MILLIONS, never stay on the air.

Perhaps, like hotdogs, no one "out there" wants to know what goes into the prettily-packaged goods they're eating.

Sad. Such a smart show. And better still: did not employ the completely questionable Tracy Morgan. (Seriously: is he related to someone???)

LindaJ said...

I LOVED Studio 60. The writing, the acting, the story lines were all superior to most of everything on TV as of September (my opinion). I was perplexed that after only a few episodes, the opening theme was cut to an almost non-existant 10 seconds or so and the cast credits ran over the opening scenes of the show.

I was in a funk for weeks when it went off the air and have been reveling in the new episodes; only to realize the have a limited shelf life. It's a real shame that the excellent story lines won't get to continue beyond whatever they've already shot.

Sometimes I'm really glad I escaped from "middle America" (or should that be Middle Earth, which I think is probably more tolerant of the inside workings of Hollywood). It's a serious shame that our enthusiasm for our industry can't be shared by more people. And it makes me wonder why, because it seems that so many people want to work in the entertainment industry.

I'm hoping for the DVD boxed set so I can enjoy it without the logos and promos at the bottom of the screen.