Tripp: I have no reason to trust you and every
reason not to.
||Jordan McDeere: Why?
||Danny Tripp: You work in television.
No drama on TV gets me more excited than intelligent actors
playing intelligent characters in conflict and resolving
them intelligently with wit, honesty and creativity. But,
I hear you shout, The West Wing is not
on TV anymore... Well it may not be but the soul of it lives
on in another show.
the time of writing, less than a fortnight ago, on May 14th
2007, Warner Brothers officially announced that Studio
60 - a behind the scenes drama of a Saturday
Night Live-type comedy - was cancelled. If intelligence
on TV is a lonely ship on a vast ocean of mediocrity, this
was a significant rent made in its hull. Passengers on this
ship are few but still on board (albeit with wet feet) are
Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, David Shore, and more I've yet
to unearth (I'll get there, it's just that 24 hour in a
day thing. And I need to work for money eat and say "Jesus,
life is short" a lot). I fear we've lost Joss to movies.
This is OK as long as the damn things get made but I felt
I lived in a better world with 45 minutes of Joss a week
rather than 2 hours every five years). Has Aaron Sorkin
another smart ace up his sleeve? We'll have to wait and
see. New episodes of Studio 60 are still
leaking out but when your network has lost confidence in
you (a euphemism for 'not making enough advertising dollars'),
it's time to find another weak spot in the TV giant stuffed
to bursting with makeover shows, cookery shows, reality
TV (sheesh) and four hundred and eight ways - with lights
and overbearing music - to ask ordinary and sometimes unintelligent
people questions; my favourite wrong answer by the way is
from 'The Weakest Link' and no, I don't watch this stuff.
What 'S' is one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity?
only really registered the power of TV (or its mass communicative
effect) after I stepped out of a yellow taxi and stood in
the middle of New York City for the first time. I was petrified
- almost paralysed with fear because TV had told me (and
it was true, wasn't it?) that everyone in New York was a
mugger and I only had to walk a few blocks and I'd be murdered
for the twenty bucks in my wallet. If I took out a map it
was like screaming "Here! Come and get me!" Real
life experience has nothing on TV because that little glass
box sits in the centre of your home and throws out stuff,
stuff which sticks (this is why commercials cost gadzillions
of dollars - they know that stuff works). Unless we are
hermits, uninterested in the world outside our grazing range,
our entire world view is cosseted, buffeted and entrenched
by what we are told and read online and in newspapers, hardly
ever by what we actually experience. Slarek once said that
distance defines the level of care we show others. If an
old man trips up in front of you, you instinctively reach
down to help (or so I'd dearly like to think). If a quarter
of a million people lose their lives in the far east, we
say "Oh, that's awful," and take the dog for a
walk almost instantly flushing the tragedy from our minds
(it's a long way away after all so what can I do?) and letting
in the inanities that control our day to day lives. Relative
is a very powerful word. Dismissing any tragedy with the
words "it's all relative" is a one-way street
with apathy waiting at the end (if it could be bothered
to show up). If we are to climb out of this morass of moronic
TV pap, we need to care more. Who cares?
following three stories (one personal and two insider-TV
ones) are true and say a great deal about our TV culture
and those who control it. I devour books and can't understand
why those that don't, don't. I have a need to read and if
I'm not working or sleeping you'll find me flipping pages.
Novels, non-fiction, any subject as long as it's passionately
communicated. Just let me take it all in. A shy girl I once
knew admitted to never having read a book so I picked up
the most charming, exciting and easily digestible story
I could find (The Chrysalids by John Wyndham) and
gave it to her. Reading it in bed, her TV watching boyfriend
said "So what are you now, an intellectual?" She
never finished it. Isn't that just heart breaking? Can we
battle and even defeat every kind of ignorance with smart
TV? Well, smart TV is not oxymoronic but hell, you'd be
hard pressed to argue in my corner. Here's the TV tittle-tattle.
friend of mine, one who until recently worked in TV in an
executive capacity, was at a meeting about new programming.
As the ideas were getting more low-brow, he decided to make
fun of the process by pitching a makeover series about pets
that have their living spaces redecorated - "Just imagine
the look on the dog's face when he sees the rococo finish
on his kennel!" I'm going to make a leap and suggest
that anyone reading this article/review would know that
my friend was being sarcastic. At the end of the meeting,
a higher ranking exec thanked him for the idea but told
him that pet shows were over for a few years. I'd laugh
if this wasn't true. It is and it's not funny. These people's
decisions (those whom TV critic A.A. Gill calls 'Tristrams')
end up in your lap. And another beaut from personal experience.
A famous wildlife producer once made a 15 minute piss-take
on the state of the industry culminating in his Steve-Irwinesque
parody employing what he called 'crap cam' to get those
hard to get shots. It was a serious charge of TV dumbing
down, one impossible to deny from where I sit. Years later,
David Attenborough hosts a special on the wildebeest migration
with a variety of different camera techniques on show (why,
oh why do wildlife shows insist on showing how ingenious
and wonderful they are during the damn programmes?) Well,
you've guessed it. Attenborough had his own 'crap-cam' for
real. I think I threw something at the TV when I saw that.
have sailed off the edge of reason and are clutching at
anything while we fall. But on the edge holding out are
those film and TV-makers with integrity and purpose and
we must seek out their stuff or see them teeter and fall
like everyone else. Care more about what you invite into
Only available for US customers located in the 48 contiguous
Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia.
legal download stipulations for
episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
am I reviewing a TV show that is not yet available on DVD
and its episodes only available for legal download in the
States? As far as I know, it certainly isn't available to
rent. To rent. Do I have to spell it out? I'm not reviewing
it per se. I'm here just to say "Watch it!" I
can't imagine how anyone would get their hands on this show
but do so, by fair means if humanly possible (which may
involve moving continents and by thunder, it would be worth
it). As of writing I have seen the pilot and I am as buzzed
as I was seeing the pilot of The West Wing.
That should be no surprise. Creator/writer and director
and star are all the same folks (respectively Aaron Sorkin,
Thomas Schlamme and Bradley Whitford). Hell, it's even the
same font for the credits. The pilot sets up the milieu
with a panache bordering on televisual genius.
60 is a late night satirical network show that's
lost its bite. Cowed by the sponsors, standards and practises
and religious lobbying, the producer has had enough and
after an anti-Christian sketch is axed from that night's
live performance, the show's producer does a Howard Beale.
If that name is unfamiliar to you then Outsider really should
review Network by Paddy Chayefsky. Based
on his original novel, the movie is about a newsman (Beale)
who suddenly has an epiphany. He sees through the bullshit
and demands that people wake up. His catchphrase (see how
even that word reduces him to a feckless TV character?)
is "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it
anymore…" The movie is a black comedy and vicious
satire (and the more vicious the better it is). So back
to Sorkin's show. The producer (a superb extended cameo
from Judd Hirsch) has an on air rant about the state of
the world - all of it from any knee jerk liberal's perspective
(like my own) is true. Here's a taste...
struggle between art and commerce. Well, there's always
been a struggle between art and commerce and now I'm telling
you art is getting it's ass kicked and it's making us
mean and it's making us bitchy. It's making us cheap punks
and that's not who we are! People are having contests
to see how much they can be like Donald Trump. We're eating
worms for money. "Who wants to screw my sister."
Guys are getting killed in a war that has theme music
and a logo. That remote in your hands is a crack pipe,
oh yeah sure every once in a while we pretend to be appalled.
We're becoming Pornographers! It's not even good pornography.
It's just this side of snuff films and friends that's
what's next because that's all there is left."
pure Sorkin gold. Hang on, I'm going to watch that scene
again... Marvellous. And in my many years in the TV industry,
it rings horribly, horrifically true. This is exactly what
we should be hearing from our entertainment demi-gods. The
producer is, of course, fired. The show even name-checks Network (as it should or be accused of
unsubtle plagiarism) even having the new boss (a superbly
judged performance by Amanda Peet) congratulate the TV news
stations that cover the story; "They've heard of Paddy
Chayefsky, that's a step in the right direction..."
To those who've never heard of Paddy Chayefsky, you can
go in several directions. Number 1: Like my shy girl's boyfriend,
you can turn over ("can't be having with intellectual
crap...") so advertisers are not happy. Number 2: You
can wonder who this man was but still enjoy the show for
its obvious quality, speed and smarts. Number 3: Enjoy the
show as per number 2 but bloody well Google Chayefsky and
broaden your horizons. The more you know, the more you can
hone down and concentrate on the good stuff. And there is
good stuff out there. We just have to make a bit more effort
to dig the nuggets out.
two stars (Friends' Matthew Perry and West
Wing's Bradley Whitford) make a terrific double
act. These are classy actors and the whole show moves a
notch up on the quality bar just by having them in it. The
former's the great writer, the latter a director. It takes
some balls to write a show with a great writer as a character.
It raises the bar somewhat. Timothy Busfield (the DC reporter
Danny in The West Wing) has a great time
playing Cal, the vision mixer (think of him as a sort of
live picture editor) and in the latest episode aired (number
17) he gets to play some lovely scenes with the actress
Alison Janney (as guest host Alison Janney) whereas in the
White House press room, he got to flirt and finally secure
the character Janney was actually playing, C.J. Cregg. It's
all connected in Sorkin-World.
rest of the cast make a solid ensemble and I am so looking
forward to the few episodes I have left to watch. Like Whedon's Firefly,
knowing there are so few Studio 60s to
raise the consciousness of the great unwashed is a miserable
thing but this makes them more valuable. So to the shows
that try and sometimes thrust out from all the worm eating
C-listers and make a difference to a grateful audience,
I raise a glass of something decidedly alcoholic. Raising
consciousness is the name of the game but so few of us seem
willing to play it. So a final suggestion. Seek out the
pilot of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,
(to rent if you can) enjoy and if you need to, Google Paddy
Chayefsky. You won't be sorry.