With Lest We Forget, I will be looking to discuss those TV shows that were (rightly or wrongly) cancelled before they had a chance to fulfil their potential.
The idea is to raise awareness of some great (and some not so great) shows you might have missed, or simply forgotten and in some cases also to identify what went wrong.
The fact is most cancelled TV shows deserve their fate (and so do an awful lot of long-running TV shows). They are poorly made and are often a waste of talented people’s time and effort, even if they do appreciate the money!
A lot of thing have been written about Aaron Sorkin, but the one thing everybody accepts is that he a cultural whirlwind. Before leaving The West Wing in 2003 after four seasons he had written 87 out of 88 episodes. That sort of work is unheard of, with most shows having teams of writing staff, which The West Wing also had incidentally, he just usually threw their stuff out and started from scratch. Just how important he was to the show can be seen by the significant decline in quality from season five onwards. It was still a very good show, but no longer the best show on TV.
It was at this point that he began working on another show. Like The West Wing, which was a behind the scenes look at the president of the United States, and Sports Night, a behind the scenes look at a sports commentary TV show, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip was a behind the scenes look at an SNL-type show.
The show reunited Sorkin with a number of actors who had appeared in the West Wing, most notably Bradley Whitford as executive producer with a drug problem Danny Tripp, who played Josh Lyman on The West Wing. Timothy Busfield who played Cal Shanley, played reporter Danny Concannon in the previous show. Matthew Perry, of Friends fame, had also appeared on the West Wing (twice in season 4 and once in season 5) and been nominated for two Emmy Awards for his performance. This time he co-starred alongside Whitford as writer Matt Albie.
Together they were recruited to the show from they were once fired in order to turn things around. Also taking centre stage is Amanda Peet playing NBS President, Jordan McDeere. It becomes her job to keep the show on track and balance the creative and economic forces, acting as an intermediary between them and NBS Chairman Jack Rudolph (played by Steven Weber).
The performances throughout are excellent and even though there is quite a large supporting cast in the form of the comedy show collective, it manages to balance a number of intertwining and personal stories deftly for the duration.
The writing is of the highest calibre and I cannot recall a single scene, line, or even word which felt out of place or which missed the mark, unlike The Newsroom. The characters were fully rounded and all brought something different to the table.
It has often been noted that Studio 60 launched at the same time as the other behind the scenes at an SNL-type show er, show began, namely 30 Rock. This goofy comedy created by Tina Fey went onto become one of the most critically respected shows on TV, if never a massive hit with audiences. Some have put it in terms that there could be only one, as if American TV shares the same metaphysical traits as Highlander. But if TV has taught us anything, it’s that audiences delight in watching the exact same show with minor cosmetic differences.
In many ways The Newsroom was spawned out of Sorkin’s unfinished business with Studio 60. The same topics are challenged, how power politics, financial interests and the pursuit of ratings can result in self-censorship and the dumbing down of content. The former tackles these concepts through the manner of how information is presented in the news, whilst the latter tackled the idea of popular culture more generally. They both even start with streaming monologues, railing against what they perceive to be wrong with the world, both of which are clearly indebted to the fantastic speech in the prophetic masterpiece, Network.
At the end of the day why people didn’t “get” Studio 60 is totally mystery to me and the single season stands alone as one of Sorkin’s finest achievements, and that is no mean feat. There are some shows you can argue that shouldn’t have been cancelled because they had potential or were finding their feet. Studio 60 was born fully formed and hit the ground running. Its cancellation was one of the greatest TV injustices of all time and it stands alongside Firefly as one of the best shows cut down in their prime.
Get this on DVD.