Sunday, November 12, 2006

Studio 60 and why god hates the U.S.

If you haven't been living in a bubble, you've heard of a TV show called "The West Wing". After it's cancellation, we lost one of the great genuinely intelligent TV shows of our generation. Well, we're in luck. Some of the great cast and the shows original writer Aaron Sorkin are back, this time with a superbly witty drama about the making of a comedy sketch show which resembles Saturday Night Live. However, the show is having a hard time finding an audience in the U.S., running opposite to CSI:Miami which clocks in 17million viewers, whilst Studio 60 is topping off below 8million. Why then is this masterpiece not getting the attention it deserves? Simple. Wrong god damn country.

Studio 60 is taking stabs left-and-right at the religious right. Now, for us Europeans, this doesn't sound too bad. But in a nation where people take their personal religion very seriously, it's no wonder some people are offended. Studio 60 is the embodiment of the illusive concept of the "Liberal Media", which in reality doesn't exist in the U.S. It's a concept which was made up by the conservative run media to blacklabel Hollywood and actors who tend to veer to the left. But Sorkin is going against the establishment once again, and we're invited to take a peek at the struggle between expressing your mind and living with the reality of a media industry which loathes the principles so many of its prominent figures adhere to. I greatly enjoy the portrayal of the writer(Matthew Perry) struggling with self-censorship, and how his close friend and producer(Bradley Whitford) trys to keep him sharp and current. It's a wonderfully witty and fast paced show, with great acting and great chemistry, which unfortunately might well be canceled at the end of its first season due to lack of viewers.

And here, we get on to my true reason for writing this rant. How the hell did the marketing types miss the fact that the show isn't compatible with a U.S. demographic? It has "Europe" written all over it for fck sake! The demographic for the series is so obvious it's silly. Young urban hipsters of above average income with a interest in politics and with a taste for dry humour, who read the news and are up to date with the goings on of the world. The demographic reads as a description of the European youth, and it's not a bad demographic to have. What few people realize, is that when speaking of television, content isn't the shows, the content are the advertisements. The shows are created to get people to tune in and see the ads. And who do companies want to reach? Young hip people, the same people who are, to quote the series, "The first to try". They want trend-setters to tune in and see their ads and go out and buy their products. Because once they reach the trend-setters, they know the rest of the market will follow. And this is just the kind of show that will attract European trend-setters.

The problem is that a U.S. company can't get over seeing the U.S. as the trend-setter. Surely the natural market for the show is the liberal yuppies of New York? Although it is quite likely more than a few of the shows viewers are among said New York yuppies, what they are failing to see is that the upper middle class to which the show is catering is dying out in the U.S. The demographic is no more. The new trend-setters in the U.S. are lower middle class kids, who do not have the same interest in politics and witty banter as its predecessor had. Coupled with increasing U.S. personal indebtedness and you realize that the potential markets are far better in Europe at this time than they are in the U.S. So how come the show airs in North America only at this time? Because if someone is going to ignore the rest of the world, it's going to be the Americans.

The probable end to this story is the untimely demise of the show after only one season, unless the attempt to fiddle with the shows timeslot all of a sudden overcomes religious zeal in the U.S. Hopefully it'll become a classic on DVD's, and we might see yet another resurrection of a dead TV show after DVD sales showed off a failure in marketing instead of a failure in production. But for now, I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next episode which airs tonight.


Blogger Mats Hilli said...

Seems like an interesting show. Are you by the way one of the "true" Aaron Sorkin fans, claiming that the West Wing post Sorkin is basically crap?

Another note - there is in my opinion a difference between personal religion and religion used in a rhetorical manner in American politics. Talk of God, evil empires and the chosen nation of God (America) are very good ingredients in any political speech - Hollywood feel-good-liberal or neoconservative, democrat or republican.

Most people take their personal religion seriously, but can still look at themselves with some deal of humour, even irony. This is not the case in Bush's neoconservative America. Even so I wouldn't claim that Europeans are less religious than the Americans. Just take a look at any Catholic country in our part of the world, France for instanse.

12/11/06 15:44  
Blogger Johan J√§rvinen said...

Americans take their personal religion more seriously, and in that way it becomes a public thing. This is the problem, which I don't believe is as bad in a overall quite secular Europe.

And West Wing post Sorkin wasn't bad, it was simply not as good. During the early days the dialogue was clearly inspired, whilst towards the end you see a clear drop-off in the quality of this central element, delegating it to a lesser role in the production. Instead the plot became thick with twists which often weren't really needed or very successful at creating the kind of suspense which the show fed upon during the era of Sorkins hectic writing.

The greatest draw-back of Sorkins writing are his re-occurring bits of dialogue, which after a while start to feel a bit expired. Luckily, he has the ability to draw upon new influences and to keep things interesting. It's clear that this series is more introspective than West Wing was, in that the main characters backstory often resemble that of Sorkin himself, which helps bring out new elements of Sorkin and helps keep the plot feeling fresh even with so many familiar faces.

I'm still waiting for Janel Moloney to join the cast, although it may be hard to work around the relationship Donna and Josh had on the West Wing, but she is a talented actress and could probably find herself at home in the new series as well.

12/11/06 17:51  

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