STUDIO 60Complications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Just watched it on CTV. No spoilers, but I'm torn about this show. I want to love it. I know, you probably loved it. Or will love it. (I guess it doesn't air in the States till tomorrow, heh). But I'm comparing it to The West Wing and I just can't get that wrapped up in whether two characters playing halves of Aaron Sorkin's brain succeed in turning around a live sketch comedy show. As compared with, say, resolving big political issues. I know that's not fair. But it's one of the reasons I never warmed to Sports Night. That, and the dumb laugh track.

It was an odd pilot. It felt like a pre-pilot. The series is going to be about two guys running a sketch comedy show, and this episode is not about that. It has all the flaws of a premise pilot. There are too many scenes that exist only to tell us who the characters are and why they're hot stuff. And what hangs in the balance is something we already know, because there wouldnt be a series if the outcome went other way. In a way, it's all schmuck bait.

Here's a useful test. Suppose you have an outcome you want the audience to get worried about. Ask yourself if the audience can really believe it's going to go the other way. If we don't believe the sword can really slice through the string, it's not the sword of Damocles.

But, it's Sorkin, so I'll keep watching.

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You can see it now on AOL - click here. I just watched it last night and thought it was interesting in that even Sorkin can't seem to write a pilot that doesn't have that pilot-ness about it. All the scenes to show you who so-and-so is and to meet THIS person or that. I'm in the middle of writing a pilot spec and since I'm trying to figure out an artful way of dealing with establishing the premise while not having merely a series of scenes to meet the characters, it's illustrative to know that even one of my favorite writers grapples with the same issues.

Here's a question: which show has done an exemplary job of making the pilot episode in itself a great ep? Or can it simply not be done?

By Blogger Moira, at 1:38 AM  

Strangely enough, watched the pilot for The West Wing yesterday. It establishes the tone and style of the show right off the bat, and features one of the all-time great introductions for a character. The whole show builds up to the entrance of the president. When he finally walks in, the character [and actor Martin Sheen] utterly steals the show. All in my humble opinion, of course.

Thought the pilot of Boomtown was great, but other episodes never quite had the same sparkle.

By Blogger DAVID BISHOP, at 5:51 AM  

I liked what you said about the Sword of Damocles. That's a good thing to keep in mind. I was thinking of something similar when watching an episode of Three Moons Over Milford. In the episode, there was a hostage situation in a bank. Because it was Three Moons, it was a quirky situation, but it involved guns and hostages nonetheless.

The tension of the scene was intensified by the nature of the show. The show hasn't quite established the "rules," so there was a greater sense that the situation could go either way. If the show had established that this is a world where terrible things happen unexpectedly (say, with the death of a sympathetic character in the pilot episode), then there would be tension but not so much intrigue; you'd know that it was going to end badly. If the show established that this is pretty much a benevolent world populated by the same people every week, then there would be no Sword of Damocles. You'd know that things were going to be okay in the end.

Of course, this is something the show can only get away with in the early days. If Three Moons reaches a third season, by then we'll have learned what will and won't happen to the characters. But it's something a new show can use well.

By Blogger Andrew, at 9:02 AM  

I never saw West Wing, which seems to be a good thing: I won't be able to compare it to Studio 60. I liked the pilot, it flowed very well and we spent just enough time will all of the major characters to get a sense of who there are.
Now I will agree that I got tired of Jordan. She was too "on it," always one step ahead of everyone. I think it was partly how Amanda Peet played her character, always smirking.

I agree that it seems like a pre-pilot, but they had to work in the impetus for Matt and Danny taking over. And with the setup involved with that, I can see why they devoted a whole ep for it. I think ep 2 will have the things the pilot should have had if they had time. Maybe it should have been a 2-hr pilot?

By Blogger Claude, at 1:55 PM  

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