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Binge Watch Alert: ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’

Binge Watch Alert is a virtually spoiler-free look back at shows you may have missed that are currently available on a major streaming service. Today we take a look at the Aaron Sorkin comedy-drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip which ran for one season on NBC and is available for free on YouTube.

In 2006, two shows hit the airways examining the behind the scenes antics of a late-night comedy show. The first featured some re-tread actors, lesser-known names, and would be a 30-minute sitcom called 30 Rock. Very little fanfare followed and the show appeared to be headed for a short run. The other took a more serious approach to the politics and relationships.

Ten years ago this week, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (or Studio 60) made its first appearance on NBC. Many believed the show to be a “can’t miss.” Aaron Sorkin, fresh off his mega-hit The West Wing, was writing and producing. A huge cast of Hollywood’s finest headlined the production. NBC slated the show for Monday nights – the most competitive spot on the prime-time schedule. Unfortunately, the audience failed to reach the network’s lofty expectations, and Studio 60 lasted only one season.

The mid-2000s felt like a time where everybody aimed to have a crazy hook to bring viewers in. Studio 60 featured what might be the best series cold open ever. The scene was set as Wes Mendell (Judd Hirsch) argues with the standards and practices representative over a sketch. The rep wants to cut the sketch and Mendell is fighting to keep it. When he realizes that he is going to lose this war, he concedes. However, during the opening sketch of the show, Mendell interrupts the program and proceeds on an intense diatribe against censorship:

Studio 60 stars two highly successful television actors: Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry. Whitford first hit the Hollywood mainstream in Happy Gilmore but earned high praise for his portrayal of Josh Lyman on The West Wing. Perry hit mega-stardom as Chandler Bing on the wildly popular sitcom Friends. Whitford plays Danny Trip, a former producer on the show asked to replace Mendell after he is fired. Perry portrays Matt Albie, a former writer who works with Tripp. Amanda Peet is a break-out star in the role of Jordan McDeere, the very young president of NBC. Other cast and crew include D.L. Hughley, Nate Corddry, Timothy Busfield, Stephen Weber, and Sarah Paulson.

The show features typical Sorkin talk-and-walk scenes that take us through the elaborate backstage area of the show. Not-so-subtle political overtones circulate through the dialogue. Characters demand your attention and your passion. Studio 60 served as a polished version of Sports Night. The show garnered five Emmy nominations and won for Best Guest Actor (John Goodman).

Why Did it Only Last One Season?

The Monday night lineup in 2006 resembled an asteroid field. To make it, a show needed to compete with Monday Night Football, WWE RAW, The Bachelor, and TV’s #1 show CSI: Miami. Depending on your time zone, NBC decided to play Studio 60 up against all of those. For almost the entire run on Mondays, Studio 60 was the #1 DVR show. People wanted to see it; they just had other plans for Monday night TV. Ratings never got to where they wanted. Eventually, the show moved and was canceled. As opposed to a show like 30 Rock which was slotted among many successful comedies, Studio 60 was expected to be a top 10 show before audiences had a chance to watch.

As a binge watch, Studio 60 is a quicky. Twenty-two episodes with a total running time of just under 16 hours. A holiday weekend might allow for a full viewing if you catch the bug. A normal viewing would be two weeks at a rate of two shows per night. Either way, viewers can discover a hidden gem in this mostly forgotten series.

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