Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Studio 60 Remembered - The Cold Open

MNTVSThe second episode of almost every new TV series sees a drop in viewership. It may be small or it may be huge, but the point is that it does happen. Studio 60 took a drop in the ratings. They went from 13.14 million viewers and a 5.0 in the 18-49 demographic to 10.82 million viewers and a 4.4 in the demographic. Moreover the critics who had raved about the Pilot pulled out their knives after the second episode. There were some strongly worded criticisms and in some cases some absurd statements were made by people who really should have known better.

The episode opens at the press conference introducing Jordan to the media, and incidentally formally announcing Matt and Danny the new Executive Producers of the fictional Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Jordan is fielding questions about her programming philosophy as the new network head. She says that she has three criteria for new programming: “Do I like it. Would my parents like it. If I had kids would I want them to watch it.” If the answer to any one of those questions is “Yes” she’d put it on, if the answer to all of them was “No” she wouldn’t have the show on the network. She deflects a question about Wes’s rant with a little humour before saying that she refuses to comment on an internal matter. Backstage Matt and Danny are waiting to be introduced. Matt is irritated at Danny for sending him home for the weekend where he slept for 28 hours. Matt thinks that that’s time he could have been writing. Moreover Matt is angry that Danny sent Jeannie, one of the cast members home with him to make sure that he was okay. Matt and Jeannie have a sort of “friends with benefits” thing going on when they aren’t involved with anybody else, but Harriet doesn’t know about them, and this seems to matter to him. Matt’s also worried about the reception their hiring is going to get from the public. He heard a caller from Tolucca Lake describe them as “Barbra Streisand loving, Michael Moore worshipping jackasses.” Danny tells him not to pay attention to it. Then with a big build-up about how they’re going to restore Studio 60 to it’s past glory Jordan introduces Matt and Danny.

At the studio Cal has put the live feed of the news conference onto the studio’s internal system and we see the reaction of various people to the appearance of Matt and Danny. Jeannie (Ayda Field) comes into Harriet’s dressing room. It is clear that they are friends, and also that Jeannie hasn’t had the career that Harriet has: when Harriet says “I want my body to look like yours,” Jeannie replies “I want my talent to look like yours.” In an office off the Writers’ Room co-Executive Producers Ricky Tahoe (Evan Handler) and Ron Oswald (Carlos Jacott) are also watching the live feed. Ricky is by far the most vocal of the pair; he calls it “the most humiliating day of my life.” Matt makes it clear in the press conference that he’ll be overseeing the writing which leads one of the writers to ask if Matt will be overseeing the writing or doing the writing; they’ve all heard stories about how it was when he was with the show. Ricky responds, “I don’t know. I’m just Matt’s butt-boy right now.”

At the news conference a reporter asks why they’ve abandoned the movie project they were planning on doing to come back to the show. Matt starts to give a standard pat answer when Danny interrupts and tells them all about his drug test and how he won’t be able to direct for a couple of  years. This gets Jack Rudolph, who has been watching in his office, to come down. More is to come. A reporter for Rapture Magazine asks about a sketch called “Crazy Christians.” Matt confirms that he wrote a sketch called “Crazy Christians” four years ago but it never aired. The reporter then asks if they can expect to see the sketch on Friday’s show. Matt starts to reply that he doesn’t know what’s going to be on the show yet but Danny jumps in and tells her, yes it will be on the show. With that the press conference ends and Shelly herds all of them off stage. Away from the public everyone is shouting at everyone else until Jack Rudolph gets out of the elevator. He stops them from cross-talking with each other. First he wants to know why Danny didn’t stick with the planned answer to why they were coming back to the show. Danny explains that it was going to get out anyway and revealing it this way was not only better than having it come out in drips, but being honest about it was also best for him as a recovering addict. He then turns on Jordan the joke she used handled a question about whether she knew about Danny’s drug test (“I don’t remember. I was high at the time.”), but Jordan is more concerned with why a reporter from Rapture Magazine was accredited to the news conference. Shelly angrily responds that it isn’t NBS policy to exclude religious publications from the network’s press conference, and when Jordan asks “how many whackjobs actually read Rapture Magazine” she reveals that the circulation is four times that of Vanity Fair, a statement that comes as a surprise to just about everyone else, including Jack. As the others leave Danny asks Jordan about her introduction for them, specifically the part about restoring the show to its former glory as the flagship of the network. He thinks that’s setting the bar rather high. She tell him, “Clear it.”

By the time they get to the theater Matt is trying to figure out how to clear the bar that Jordan had set. They need a big “cold open” for the show but he doesn’t know what it’s going to be. There are other details to work out, most importantly which one of them will take Wes’s office. Neither one of them wants it, but it’s obvious that Matt is going to get it whether he wants it or not. Matt reveres Wes, who wrote for the Smothers Brother and wrote with Pryor and with Cosby, invented Studio 60, and gave him his first job in television. He says “I rather sit in Lorne Michael’s office,” to which Danny responds “Lorne’s office is in New York and he’s still using it.” The office is a mess – it looks as though it had been ransacked, but one feature catches Danny’s eye as being new since they left. It’s a digital clock. when Danny turns it on it shows the days, hours, minutes and seconds left until the next show. Matt says, “No wonder he [Wes] went crazy.”

Matt has to go meet with the writing staff while Danny is going to talk to the cast. Matt doesn’t know any of the staff; they’ve all been hired by Ricky and Ron. Danny goes in for a moment as well to “put them at ease,” although he has an unusual way of doing it.What he says is more of an ultimatum than a pep talk: “This isn't TV camp. It's not important that everybody plays. Come at Matt with good ideas and you'll be a big part of the show; don't and it won't matter because he won't remember your name.” With that he leaves.

The cast are waiting for Danny in the basement dressing rooms. Tom is reading a post on from Bernadette of Bernadette’s Blog which says, “Studio 60 seldom rose to the level of Saturday Night Live at its best. The hiring of Matthew Albie and Daniel Tripp is a sideshow and that Wes's courageous and eloquent sign off last week should have served as the final nail in the show's coughin [sic – that’s how Bernadette spelled it according to Tom].” Simon tells Tom to stop reading the Internet and describes Bernadette as writing this in her pyjamas, with a freezer full of Jenny Craig and surrounded by her five cats. Tom responds that he has to care about Bernadette’s Blog because she’ll be be quoted by the New York Times to show that they’re listening to the public and aren’t part of the media elite. Tom says that he prefers it when they were part of the media elite. The conversation turns to Matt’s back. Simon has had the same surgery and is certain that Matt won’t be able to write the show. According to Simon you aren’t supposed to move around for a week and a half, and you certainly can’t sit in a chair for fourteen hours, which Harriet says is a short day for Matt. Jeannie tells them not to worry, Matt is doing forty leg lifts with 30 pound weights which Simon finds difficult to believe; he couldn’t tie his shoes so soon after his operation. Just then Danny comes in. His speech to the cast is about as diplomatic as his speech to the writers.He’s talked to them all and he’s sure that they’re probably worried about the changes he and Matt might make and whether they’ll be still be with the show . When Tom says not until just now, Danny says, well you should have. “Don't give me your very best or pick this week to complain about something you're going to make these decisions very easy.” Matt won’t be writing the first show around guest host Mark Wahlberg, and because he doesn’t know many of the cast he’ll be writing for the people he knows so they need to be patient…and become one of the people he knows. Simon asks about Matt’s back; he practically had to have an epidural to get out of bed when he had the surgery and Matt is claiming to be doing forty leg lifts. Jeannie says he isn’t claiming to do them she saw him doing it. Harriet is surprised: “Matt. At a gym?!” to which Jeannie responds, “No, at his house. he bought a machine.” That’s when the penny drops for Harriet and she realises that Matt and Jeannie have been involved. The room becomes so quiet that you can hear the noises made by building’s ventilation system. Harriet asks to be excused which Danny allows; when Jeannie wants to go after her, Danny refuses to let her go. Just as Danny is leaving, Simon asks him if he had seen the first show of the season. Danny replied that he hadn’t seen the show yet. There was a definite sense of tension in this exchange.

In the Writers’ Room Matt is becoming increasingly frustrated. The Room keeps proposing sketch ideas of the “Bush is stupid,” “The government gives things names the opposite of what something really is” variety. They aren’t funny and what really proves it is when Ricky explains one of the ideas to Matt – the rule that if you have to explain it it isn’t funny obviously applies double in the Writer’s Room. When Matt mentions that he needs a cold open the room bursts into anarchy with everyone talking at once and no one suggesting anything worthwhile. Matt eventually gets the room under control again and then comes down on the way the writers are dressed. Matt has decided that grown men dressing like they were in Junior High isn’t cool. When Ron says “It’s comedy Matt,” he replies “Not yet it isn’t, and until it is we are all going to act professionally. You understand. We're going to act dress talk write and behave professionally.” At that moment a very pissed off Harriet bursts into the room: “You are an adolescent, oversexed, whore monger with the sensitivity of a head of cabbage.” Matt excuses himself from the room and goes into the hall with Harriet. He makes it absolutely crystal clear that if she ever does that again he will bench, to the point where she’ll be the highest paid extra in Hollywood. Once he has made his point, they argue about what’s really bothering her. He slept with one of the people who works with her, and the way it came out humiliated her. She refers to the show as “my show.” Matt reminds her that it isn’t “her show” and that while she’s been there for seven years, he was there for two years before that and incidentally so was Jeannie. Matt reminds her that she broke up with him, and he’s got the email to prove it. She goes through a list of people he’s supposedly dated since the broke up ranging from Fiona Apple to Marlo Thomas (which is absurd since she’s married to Phil Donahue who can “still beat the crap out of me.”). Matt asks if she got confirmation from the Drudge Report and she says she got confirmation from Jeannie…about Jeannie. Matt tells her not to worry, he doesn’t date or do anything with people who work with him. What’s really really bothering her finally comes out: “I have an active imagination Matthew. They pay me a lot of money for it. And you had to know I was going to find out. So now I have this in my imagination. That's just mean.” She walks away but Matt follows her. He didn’t mean to be mean; Danny sent Jeannie home with him to make sure he was okay, and…it’s obvious that he wants to tell her something but instead he tells here that they need a really good show this week, and the need her head in the game. She tells him to sit down and write.

On Tuesday morning there’s a meeting in Jack’s office with Jack, Shelley, Peter (Scott Klace) from Affiliate Relations and Joe (Mark Edward Smith) from Sales. Jordan arrives. They have a problem; the affiliate owner from the Terre Haute station has been deluged with calls protesting the “Crazy Christians” sketch and he won’t air the show if the sketch runs. Jordan is dismissive, because it is “just” Terre Haute and tells them that she doesn’t tell “the guys” what they can and can’t put on the show. In fact she promised them that they can run the sketch. Terre Haute isn’t the real problem it’s the organized nature of the protests. Clearly it is the work of the editor of Rapture Magazine working through the various “family oriented” religious websites (they mention the AFE which as nearly as I can tell is a fictional organization but seems to be an analog for the Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association). Posting something like this on their forums is like the Batsignal for these people. Jordan asks how bad could it get. Shelly explains that they can expect the phone lines at Studio 60, the network headquarters, and twenty-two Red State affiliates to be flooded within the hour, it will be a news story all week and they’ll probably attack Jordan with personal stuff. Jordan’s willing to accept that, but Jack’s not sure the advertisers will feel the same way. Jordan feels that she’s bullet proof on Friday nights because half of the advertisers on the night are movie studios that release on Friday nights and want their movies associated with what’s hip and cool. As long as she delivers eyeballs she’s fine. Joe can’t believe her naiveté. Without the affiliates there aren’t going to be any eyeballs. If the big affiliate groups pull their stations NBS will be reduced to their owned and operated stations and whatever affiliates stick with them, or as Jack puts it “We'll be reduced to the size of a college radio station.” He practically begs Jordan to tell Matt and Danny to pull the sketch. She refuses: “I am the president of the National Broadcasting System and I won't be told what to put on my air by amateurs of any stripe.” With that she leaves.

Over at the studio, Danny is meeting with Cal and the technical staff. There’s nothing for them to do because Matt hasn’t written anything so all of the trades are on standby for when Matt does give them something to do. The meeting breaks up and Danny starts upstairs to his office. As he is halfway up the stairs his assistant Jane arrives to tell him that Jack White has severe tonsillitis. It takes Danny a couple of beats to realize that Jack White is the lead singer for the White Stripes… the show’s musical guest. He turns back and tells Jane to get in touch with anyone who isn’t touring or dead.

Upstairs Danny runs into Simon. He asks what the whole thing about whether he’d seen the first episode of the season was all about; Simon knows that Danny hasn’t watched the show since he and Matt left. Was Simon trying to embarrass him or make a point? Simon tells him that he would never try to embarrass Danny but the whole business with the drug test was new information. He thinks that Danny is spending two years “slumming” on TV. Danny tells him that it doesn’t matter, he’s here now and what matters is that if they hadn’t come Ricky and Ron would get the show but Simon replies that Danny left them with Ricky and Ron. Danny tells him that he was standing beside Matt and where was Simon. He responds that he was standing beside the show.

Danny goes into Matt’s office followed by Simon. According to “The Clock” there’s 3 Days, 7 Hours, and 22 minutes left until Friday’s show. Matt is standing in front of the line-up board. The only thing on it is the monologue and the two musical numbers from The White Stripes. Matt wonders if the White Stripes would mind playing for the whole hour and a half. Danny breaks the news that they won’t be playing at all. Just then Tom comes into the office wearing a wig, painted on moustache and soul patch. He’s heard that Matt is choking and is there to pitch an idea that for a sketch with him and Harriet as Jack and Meg White. Then Cal comes in to tell Matt not to “grip it too tightly;” it’s only Tuesday. Matt tells the four of them how he lectured the writers on clothing. He couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. He also explains the trouble he’s having with the cold open for the show. Unless something big happens between Tuesday and Friday they’re going to have people’s attention for the open. The problem is that there are so many things that it has to cover. It has to be self-deprecating, an acknowledgement and an acceptance, It has to be on a grand scale. It needs to be a song but not just a song, something bigger. Tom says “We take the show seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously. We screwed up but we won’t do it again.” The Cal says, “We’ll be model citizens.” You can see the inspiration coming to Matt’s face. He asks the guys if they knew who did the greatest “Frat Humor” of all time. Tom mentions Rudy Vallee, Cal says Groucho Marx, but Danny says W.S. Gilbert. Danny comes up with the first line: “We’ll be the very model of a modern network TV show.” Simon follows with, “We hope that you don’t mind that our producer was caught doing Blow.” After a moment they agree to the line. Matt then says that they need something that speaks to the legacy of Television, in the style of Arturo Toscinini and the NBC Orchestra. Danny runs out the door to call to his assistant Jane. She’s on the phone with Clay Aiken’s manager. Danny tells her to get John Mauceri and the West Coast Philharmonic, and also the Los Angeles Light Opera Chorus. Jane asks if this is a joke; Matt says he hopes so, but Danny says no. Cal goes off to get the production people working, while Danny tells Simon and Tom to get a change of clothes and their shaving kits – it’s going to be just them this week (an indication that the writer’s room isn’t going to be involved in the writing). Tom asks, “Harriet too?” Matt replies “Harriet too.”

It’s now Friday night. Outside the theater a reporter is doing a stand-up. According to her the police estimate that 200-300 protesters are gathered many of them carrying signs saying “NBS equals God-haters.” (From what we the audience can see the number can be counted in the dozens rather than the hundreds, but that may be as much a statement about the size of TV show budgets as it is about TV news hyperbole – though I personally prefer to think the latter rather than the former). This sets the scene for what’s going on inside the theater as the show prepares to go live. Matt wants to take a quick shower. It’s 102 degrees out and he’s worried that the crowd will be too hot. They go into Matts office and we can see that the board, barren on Tuesday, now has eighteen items on it, not counting guest Mark Wahlberg’s monologue and the good nights at the end of the show. Matt says, “In an hour and a half it'll be empty again.” The statement astonishes Danny: “Would you just enjoy the moment? Would please just live in what's happening right now and not time travel to the next...?” They’ve had the greatest dress rehearsal that either of them can remember seeing in the show. Things are going to go great. He does need to talk about one thing with Matt and that’s how things are between him and Harriet. Danny feels they’ll be in trouble if Matt is still in love with Harriet. Matt says he’s not: “I love her talent. The woman's got millions of fans but there are maybe fifty guys in town who really understand how good she is and we're two of them. I admire her. I'm knocked out by her talent. And I like it when she makes me laugh, and I like making her laugh, which isn't easy to do, so it's gratifying. She's undeniably sexy. I like it when she smiles at me, and a couple of other things, but that's it.” Danny says, “We’re screwed.”

In the dressing room Jeannie finally talks to Harriet about the situation with Matt. She apologizes for the way that it came out. She and Matt are friends but sometimes when they’re without anybody they wind up with each other. Harriet hits her over the head with a prop bottle, then smiles and says “Light’em up Jeannie with the light brown hair.” Elsewhere Danny meets up with Simon. He explains that at the start of Simon’s second year, which was Danny’s last year, Simon had lost a part in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday to Jamie Foxx. He had been pissed at just about everyone, and said, “I just graduated from Yale Drama. I don't belong here,” which pissed Danny off because he did belong there. Now Simon says that he belong there, and says “So don’t fire me.” Simon explains that he can’t “do the voices;” Ricky and Ron have been pushing Simon to do imitations and gives a bad version of Bill Cosby saying “Jell-o Pudding Pops.” Danny doesn’t understand, how did Wes let Ricky and Ron take over the show but Simon defends him, explaining that Wes was tired, and Matt and Danny were like sons to him, and he didn’t stand up for them. Danny simply says, “We didn’t ask him too.” Danny promises that they’re going to be starting fresh and they’ll be playing to Simon’s strengths including having him anchor the news on the show.

Jack is in the VIP gallery of the theater getting a beer. He sees Jordan goes over to sit with her. He makes his presence known by saying, “Mary, you’ve got spunk,” then they both say “I hate spunk.” It was his way of reminding her that he likes television too. She asks what the final count was. They lost five affiliates including Terre Haute, four local advertisers and three national advertisers. And Jack had to change his email address… twice. “But,” says Jordan, “Frogs didn’t fall from the sky.” Jack tells her that if the ratings don’t go up or the public doesn’t find Crazy Christians as funny as she does things are going to happen that will make frogs falling from the skies seem like Club Med. He adds, “They always win Jordan.” She replies that that may be true but she’s not going down without a fight. And if the ratings do go up they’ll welcome back the advertisers who left them, at 120% of the original ad buy. “We’ll be the first network to charge a coward fee.”

Backstage, Matt and Danny gather the cast. Danny tells him that he’s watched them all week and he’s really impressed. Matt tells him that it’s hot outside and people who are hot don’t laugh as much because they’re sticky and uncomfortable. Then it’s Harriet’s turn to lead them in prayer: “Blessed are you oh Lord our God creator of the universe and Father of us all. Thank you for giving us one of your greatest gifts, a sense of humour. And if you have time please make something heavy fall on Matthew's head. We say this prayer in the name of your son Jesus Christ who had to have been funny to get so many people to listen to him. Blessed are you forever and ever, Amen.” Then just before she goes out on stage she asks Matt why she got a laugh in the table read of a sketch but not at the dress rehearsal. He tells her that in the dress, “You asked for the laugh;” in the table read, “You asked for the butter.”

After everyone takes their places, including Danny in a director’s chair on the floor in front of the stage and Matt in his office, The Clock counts down the seconds before the show starts, with a parody song based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Modern Major General:
We'll be the very model of a modern network tv show
Each time that we walk into this august and famous studio
We're starting out from scratch after a run of 20 years and so
We hope that you don't mind that our producer was caught doing blow

They hope that you don't mind that their producer was caught doing blow
They hope that you don't mind that their producer was caught doing blow
They hope that you don't mind that their producer was caught doing lots of blow!

Men (Simon, Tom, Dylan, and Alex):
Yes it's hard to be a player when at heart you've always had a hunch
To bite the hand that feeds you is a scary way of doing much
But still when we walk into this august and famous studio
We'll be the very model of a modern network TV show!

But still when they walk into this august and famous studio
They'll be the very model of a modern network TV show!

I am a Christian, tried and true, baptized at age eleven so
Unlike the lib'rals, gays and Jews, I'm going straight to heaven.

Ladies (Harriet, Jeannie, Samantha):
But if you feel you've been cheated and our sordid content lets you down
We'll happ'ly do the favor of an intellectual reach around!
They'll happ'ly do the favor of an intellectual reach around
They'll happ'ly do the favor of an intellectual reach around
They'll happ'ly do the favor of a hundred-dollar hooker's reach around!

Harriet (whispers):
That wasn't the same thing we said.

They'll happ'ly do the favor of a verbal euphamistic reach around!

Studio 60 Cast:
We know the evangelicals are lining up to tag our toe
And then the corporations will not hesitate to pull their dough
But still when we walk into this august and famous studio
We'll be the very model of a modern network TV show!

But still when they walk into this august and famous studio
They'll be the very model of a modern network TV show!
But still when they walk into this august and famous studio
They'll be the very model of a modern network TV show!

As announcer Herb Shelton announces “Live from Hollywood, It’s Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip.” Matt turns away from the stage and looks at The Clock. It has started counting backwards from seven days again.


One of the things that a lot of critics and other people had trouble with is that we didn’t see the “Crazy Christians” sketch. We heard a lot about it, or at least heard its name bandied about a lot but we didn’t see the sketch or see or hear the rehearsals or the script or even learn anything about the content of the script. It was just a name. Some people, mostly commenters on media blogs – I think Alan Sepinwall’s blog was one of them – invoked Chekov’s gun when referring to “Crazy Christians.” As you may recall Chekov said that, “if you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.” In their minds “Crazy Christians” was built up as being a brilliant piece of writing (or as being so controversial) to such a point that you had to see it. I don’t think it was necessary to show it. In fact I think that “Crazy Christians” accomplishes its purpose best by not being seen. In a very real way it drives the show, or at least the beginning episodes of the show. Because I don’t think that “Crazy Christians” falls into the category of Chekov’s Gun at all; I think that “Crazy Christians” is a McGuffin, in the best Hitchcockian sense of the term.

Wikipedia describes a McGuffin as “a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction.The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, or it may simply be something entirely unexplained.” (Emphasis mine in both cases.) Hitchcock used McGuffins of course, and they were often unimportant to the story that was being told, serving as a motivator to the action rather than having any importance in their own right. Take for example The Lady Vanishes – one of my favourite Hitchcock movies. All of the action happens because of Miss Froy’s little song, and yet the song itself, and what it signifies, have no importance to the plot of the movie.

“Crazy Christians” fills that role in Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. It is the reason for Wes’s fight with Jerry in the first episode. It is why Wes has his on screen meltdown. It is emblematic of the way that the writing on the show has slipped and Wes’s weakness. In short it is why Matt and Danny have to be brought back. In the second episode it is symbolic of Jordan’s determination to take bold stands regardless of the opinion of those around her in the quest for a return to quality. That she is willing to air “Crazy Christians” in spite of the threat of viewer boycotts, affiliates refusing to air the show and companies pulling their ads falls squarely into the definition of a McGuffin; she is “willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it,” or in this case to use it.

“Crazy Christians” It motivates Jordan’s confrontation with Jack and the executives not to mention Shelly, and it becomes Jordan’s line in the sand – this far and no further. And  the sketch was Wes’s breaking point at least twice. He wasn’t willing to stand up for Matt in 2001 when “Crazy Christians” was the sketch for the week that Matt was forced to quit, and it losing the fight with Jerry Wes Jerry on the first show to keep “Crazy Christians” in the show was the what drove him to his rant. “Crazy Christians” led indirectly to Ricky and Ron taking real control of the show leaving Wes as more figurehead than anything else.

“Crazy Christians” also sets up a lot of what follows. I’m thinking particularly of the revelation of Jordan’s DUI in the next episode, followed very quickly by her ex-husband’s proposed book and the stories that he was shopping around. After all Shelly had told Jordan that running the sketch would lead the other side to go after her personally. Another aspect of “Crazy Christians” as McGuffin can be seen in the two "Nevada Day” episodes later in the season. The Judge’s antagonism towards Jack and Danny is in part motivated by the sense that the actor, the show, and the network are making fun of people like him who are sincere in their beliefs. “Crazy Christians” is part of the basis for this antagonism.

There are of course real-world analogies in the “Crazy Christians” storyline, and they are as valid today as they were when Sorkin played with the idea in 2006. I’m not really referring to the decision by KSL in Salt Lake City to drop NBC’s new series The Playboy Club. It is at least understandable given that the station is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This isn’t a case of a station bowing to outside pressure out of fear in the way that the fictional Terre Haute station in the Studio 60 did, but rather a policy decision by station ownership. The more important aspect is the groups that create this climate of fear – the AFE in the show, the Parents Television Council in real life – which mobilize their followers occasionally based entirely on rumour. The PTC demanded that CBS change the name of $#*! My Dad Says and when that failed threatened boycotts and FCC action because “obviously” the show was going to be filled with obscenities. The truth is that the show was just another not particularly well realized sitcom. This year they’ve “slammed” NBC-Comcast for a supposed nudity clause in the contract for actors on The Playboy Club (presumably for possible foreign sales and possibly for inclusion in cable network airings and DVDs), and demanded the removal of the word “Bitch” from the title of the ABC series Good Christian Bitches (which was also the name of the book on which the series is based) despite the fact that ABC had already stated that that was only the working title of the series that became Good Christian Belles. The PTC promised to “use every method at its disposal to turn advertisers and viewers away from a provocative title that compromises respect for both women and Christians in an attempt to draw ratings.”And remember that statement was issued when the only thing known about the series was the working title which ABC had already said would be changed.

I also want to spend a bit of time in this extremely long and overdue piece to discuss the episode’s finally, the parody song Modern Network TV Show. Looking for some unrelated material recently I came upon a blog where the reviewer referred to the song as “a filk,” apparently feeling that any parody song qualifies as a “filk” (they don’t) and that somehow it being a filk makes it is somehow a lesser creation (this particular blogger was angry at Tom and Simon’s comments on bloggers as a class and the song got caught in the crossfire). Parody songs have been a mainstay of comedy for generations. This is no different.

A bigger objection to the song as found in the comments section of Ken Levine’s blog in which various commenters said that you don’t use a Gilbert & Sullivan parody song because it shows “how out of touch and superior the characters considered themselves,” and therefore using it unironically was an indicator of “how out of touch and superior Sorkin is.” I don’t think that I need to tell you that I disagree with this assessment. I liked the song. I like that Sorkin has a fondness for Gilbert & Sullivan. I have a fondness for Gilbert & Sullivan. After all he used “For He Is An Englishman” from HMS Pinafore in an episode of The West Wing, and posters from productions of Gilbert and Sullivan were seen in both The West Wing and Studio 60. But it goes further than that for me. I think that the song works for what it has to be. The show has to regain its status. This is something that Ricky and Ron and the Writers’ Room don’t recognise when they pitch the same old material that they’ve been doing all along. For them it’s just business as usual. Matt recognises that the opening has to be different. as he puts it, it has to be “self-deprecating, an acknowledgement and an acceptance, but it has to be on a grand scale.” The big thing, left unspoken, is that it has to acknowledge what Wes said without referring to him. It has to be an apology for the crap that the show has become and a promise that they’ll restore both the cutting edge comedy and the idea of quality that has vanished from TV. Most of all it has to be a clear indication that they won’t be treating their audience like morons. People who claim that using Gilbert & Sullivan shows “how out of touch and superior Sorkin is,” are themselves being superior by claiming that an audience is incapable of appreciating either Gilbert & Sullivan or the the message that the parody song was trying to put across. I don’t buy it.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

I disagree with 'Chekov's gun' too. Sometimes a gun is just a gun, proving that the character hunts or is a Second Amendment advocate.