'Studio 60' and Strangely Familiar Writing

94121__sarah_lAaron Sorkin is more than your average TV writer. So naturally, he’s going to get more than your average amount of scrutiny. Especially if his new show’s chosen milieu is the notoriously persnickety world of comedy. In the nerve center of New York’s underground theater scene, the boards are abuzz: Studio 60, the rumblings rumble, is tone-deaf when it comes to the actual business of making people laugh. (Though I suppose the same could be said of its ur-text, Saturday Night Live.)

Ah, but there’s more: Some of the more gimlet-eyed laughologists have noted certain, um, resonances: For instance, there’s this evidence of a suspected repetition of Sorkin’s Sorkinese (plucked from a private, unlinkable board):

Sports Night, 4/27/1999
Dana Whitaker (Felicity Huffman): [barges in] You are a sleazy, slimy, adolescent, over-sexed, overpaid blowhole!

Studio 60, ”Cold Open,” 9/25/2006
Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson, pictured): [barges in] You are an adolescent, over-sexed, whoremonger with the sensitivity of a head of cabbage.

To be fair: First off, ”head of cabbage” is clearly a post-9/11 reference, right? Second, if you’re going to steal from anyone, steal from yourself, says I. Ah, but that’s not the most interesting echo from the past.

addCredit(“Studio 60: Mitch Haaseth”)

You may recall that Sorkin hired Mark McKinney, late of Kids in the Hall and SNL, to oversee the sketch comedy on the show-within-the-show. (He’s listed as a story editor on ”Cold Open.”) Well, last episode featured a repurposing of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Major-General’s Song.’ (”I am the very model of a modern Major-General,” etc.) Now it just so happens that SNL did the very same act on January 21, 1995, during McKinney’s stint on the show. The host was David Hyde Pierce. (”I’m hosting Saturday Night Live, I’m nervous, I’ve got shaky knees/I love the show, although I haven’t watched it since the ’70s.”)

Coincidence? Probably not. Nefarious? Hardly. But it’ll be awfully fascinating to track which SNL moments Sorkin and McKinney plunder pay homage to next. No pressure, guys, but there are, like, a million hungry comedians watching you. And they have loooooooong memories.

Comments (48 total) Add your comment
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  • Stephanie Travitsky

    See, Sports Night under a different setting. Can’t Sorkin think of a better idea for a show?

  • Karen

    Every scene in the control room takes me back to the good ole days of “Sports Night.” However, Amanda Peet is no Felicity Huffman. In fact, she’s quite (to steal from Mr. Cruise) quite “glib” throughout every episode and, therefore, incredibly annoying. Wipe that half-smile off your face, girl!

  • Flick

    Honestly, I can’t complain about the similarities between Sports Night and Studio 60. Sports Night was unfairly ripped from the networks, and it’s nice to finally get some more of the rapid fire, behind-the-scenes style comedy on a weekly basis. I just hope that Studio 60 lasts.

  • Karla

    Nice catch with the G&S lift. 1995 was the last time that skit would have worked – for the last vestiges of the boomers. Now, it’s embarrassingly out of date.
    I wonder if Sorkin has any chance of reaching out to da yutes, or overseeing writing that would make the show-within-a-show feel at all relevant.
    I just don’t want to see this thing devolve into a bunch of old, self-referential farts pining for the good old days (of which there were few) and crabbing about bloggers and that newfangled internet.

  • meredith

    I wonder if Sorkin’s going to write another episode where a cast member writes a letter to fill time. I’m talking about the Sports Night episode where Jeremy writes a letter to his sister during a prolonged tennis match and where there’s a filibuster in the Senate and everyone writes emails. I liked it the first two times, but maybe three would be a little much…

  • mike

    A little perspective: stealing a joke from your own show seven years ago is still infinitely better than 20 hours of police procedurals every week. Direct the boards to come up with resonances on L&O.

  • Martin
  • Nick

    I’m just wondering… did Jello pudding pops pay for the endorsement, under the guise of the discussion between a castmember complaining to the director?
    And how did Harriet successfully sing a double platinum gospel album if she can’t sing a lick?

  • Kaybar

    If this show is a rip-off or re-run of Sports Night, so much the better. I loved SN and at least Sorkin is stealing from himself!

  • Laura

    Oh come on, people seemed surprised, Aaron Sorkin is nefarious for plagiarizing other peoples work, it’s almost like a Hollywood open secret, how many scenes from West Wing were taken directly from blogs, magazine articles, and Salon.com, it is almost embarrasing. Yes, his dialogue is great, pretty much because other writers have written it before. He just takes what works, and gives it a twist. This is not new nor should be surprising. If I were a writer, i’d be careful to keep my words and ideas as far from A.S. as possible.

  • Mike

    I’m disapointed that so many people have mentioned Gilbert and Sullivan’s but NOT mentioned the episodes of the West Wing where G&S appereaed. Remeber when Ainsle Hays was hired, Sam Seaborn mentioned he was the Secretary for the G&S club. I would bet anything that Sorkin was the G&S secretary at college.

  • Rosie

    Forget if it’s already been done: the G&S bit was BORING. Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford’s characters are supposed to rescue TV and make Studio 60 edgy? Why go Broadway? That was about as edgy as Ashlee Simpson.

  • Joel

    I liked the episode, but the G&S open they came up with, the open that would have to clear the bar, sucked. Nobody would find that edgy or funny. Maybe they will deal with that in the next episode. I don’t think they should show much of the skits if they are going to continue to pretend that these guys are as clever as Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

  • Nate

    The preview for this weeks episode says it’s about what happens when the power goes out, like that Sports Night episode where ummm…. the power went out

  • Cliff

    Also, Sorkin cast his ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenowith on West Wing. Kristin Chenowith, who is a Christian and released an album of inspirational music. Wonder if she thinks the current storyline sounds familiar?

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