With the final episodes of ill-fated sociopolitical drama Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip now all ignominiously burned off by the network that renounced its onetime anointed Nielsen Messiah, showrunner Aaron Sorkin is ready to reflect upon the possible reasons that his much-hyped peak behind the scenes at a curiously humorless late night sketch comedy show failed. (In case you missed it, our recap of the series finale is here to help you get some closure.) While Sorkin is willing to admit to making "too many mistakes for it to survive," he posits that Our Obsession With Hugely Successful, Famously Troubled Man Behind The Curtain might have gotten in the way of the public's enjoyment of his characters' lively banter about the ethics of employing hostage-reclaiming mercenaries in Afghanistan or concerning potentially fatal pregnancy complications. Reports the LAT's Patrick Goldstein after a sit-down with Sorkin:
"I don't know how to emphasize this enough that I'm not disappointed or upset with anyone but myself," Sorkin says over lunch at Nate 'n Al's last week where he is repeatedly interrupted by fans wanting to share how much they enjoyed his work.
"There are only two possible reasons for 'Studio 60' failing — it was either my fault or it was just one of those things. On some shows, you can make mistakes and still survive. But with this one, I made too many mistakes for it to survive." [...]
Every failure in Hollywood gets blamed on something else, from movies that bomb (freak snowstorms back East) to anemic album sales (illegal file sharing by snotty college kids). But Sorkin sees a more insidious villain — a triviality-obsessed media no longer willing to separate gossip and idle speculation from reporting and criticism. "When all everyone does is try to draw personal connections between your characters and real people, you're not really watching a play or a TV show anymore," he says. "It becomes a tabloid experience."
This gossipy guesswork pervaded much of the media coverage of "Studio 60," in which much was made of the supposed similarities between "Studio 60" characters and real-life counterparts. It wasn't an entirely unreasonable assumption, since one of the show's lead characters — a TV writer with a history of drug problems — was written by Sorkin, a TV writer with a history of drug problems.
What clearly bugs Sorkin is that for whatever matrix of reasons — his messy private life, his brash willingness to publicly trash Internet bloggers or just his star power as a writer — he became a target for all sorts of gossipy buzz that doesn't haunt similarly successful writers like "Everybody Loves Raymond's" Phil Rosenthal or "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Larry David.
"I can flat-out guarantee that Phil was writing autobiographical stories in his show, but for some reason people just aren't caught up in the gossip of his life," Sorkin says. "It's just unhealthy. 'After the Fall' is a better play if you don't know that Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe were married. It doesn't enhance the experience of seeing the play if you're being a detective, always looking for clues. You only see the writing through a filter that takes you out of the actual story."
Indeed, our own experience of the show was colored by exactly these kinds of unhealthy pursuits, where we became obsessed with sleuthing out alleged parallels between Jordan McDeere and TV exec Jamie Tarses, The Christian One Whose Name We Can Never Remember to Sorkin ex Kristen Chenowith, and Lobster Boy and the psilocybin-induced demonic hallucination who first pitched the idea of Studio 60 to Sorkin during a particularly vivid "development session." Now that our prejudices have been exposed, we promise to approach the celebrated writer's next project with a mind uncluttered by such peripheral obsessions.