Cage Match: 'The Black Donnellys' vs. 'Studio 60'

Have you heard? NBC is pinning its hopes on this new lofty, ambitious show created by a Hollywood Golden Boy. They’ve been hyping it with millions of commercials and previews (to the point of irritating saturation), all of which promise that the show will bring intellectual, gritty topics back to television. To prove this is indeed a Serious Television Show, most of its scenes will be shot in deep shadow and sepia tones. And of course, NBC is hoping — praying — that this new show will pull the network out of the ratings doldrums.

Sound familiar? Whether you’re hearing this story in the present tense or if it takes you back to warmer days in early September, the parallels between new show The Black Donnellys and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip seem uncanny. Both have big-name creators (Paul Haggis and Aaron Sorkin, respectively), both address serious topics (violence and religion), and both share a timeslot: Mondays at 10 p.m. (The Black Donnellys began squatting in Sorkin’s timeslot last night, bumping Studio 60 into the bleak land of "indefinite hiatus.")

Since further comparisons between the two are inevitable, how do the pilots match up head-to-head? Let us compare and contrast:

The Dramatic Premise
A prominent TV producer has an on-air breakdown at Studio 60,and executive Jordan (Amanda Peet) calls in former-employees-with-questionable-pasts Matt (Matthew Perry) and Danny (Bradley Whitford) to save the day. Can they assemble a dream team to rescue their sketch-comedy show? Meanwhile, on Donnellys, Tommy Donnelly (Jonathan Tucker) desperately tries to keep his crime-loving brothersin check. By the end of the first episode, he’s seen one brotherhospitalized, another arrested, and his dreams of a cleaner, better life go down the tube as hewalks into an Italian mob stronghold and shoots five of its members,point-blank. Somehow saving SNL doesn’t seem nearly as important —nor does it involve gunplay.
Winner: The Black Donnellys

The Setting
The Donnelly boys were born and raised in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen, wherepubs are abundant and territories are clearly marked and defended. Studio 60‘sdrama takes place inside a historic theater on a ritzy Hollywood street. Cheer up, gloomy comedy folk — it’s (probably) sunny outside!
Winner: The Black Donnellys

Character Introduction
Studio 60 introduced stars Matt, Danny, and Jordan using handylittle title cards that stated who we were about to meet next. Though thecards were convienent and probably should be considered cheating, afterfive minutes of Donnellys, I was confused as to who was who and howthey were all related — blame it way-too-quick introductions and thestereotypical Irish/Italian/New York way of having all names end in"-y" (it seems like there’s a Tommy, Jenny, Joey, Danny, Pauly, Petey,Jimmy, Billy, Bobby, Scotty, Biscotty, and Sneezy in everyneighborhood.)
Winner: Studio 60

The Love Interest
On Studio 60,Matt pines over his ex — good-girl, God-fearing sketch comic Harriet Hayes (SarahPaulson) — and the two banter like there’s no tomorrow (indeed, watching them go at it really does feel like an eternity). ThoughTommy’s childhood friend Jenny (Olivia Wilde) is married, she doesn’tknow that her husband is dead — yet she proclaims her love for Tommyanyway. Pretty badass. Plus, Wilde gets automatic career brownie pointsfor playing a bi-curious bartender in the most ridiculous of OC plots.
Winner: Wilde and The Black Donnellys

The Guy Love
Studio 60‘s Matt and Danny have stuck by each other through thickand thin, including their firings and drug addiction, and the guy loveis palpable; Danny often hides information from Matt to avoid hurting him.The Donnelly boys, though related, don’t seem to interact much outsidefighting, beating on each other, and hiding information to avoid morefighting and beating. And is it me, or is Tommy’s nearly-blind loyaltynot "love" so much as some other emotion that borders on idiotic? They say blood isthicker than water, but thanks to Perry and Whitford’s actingchemistry, Matt and Danny are the more touching team.
Winner: Studio 60

The Moral
Well, we’re not really sure of Studio 60‘s"moral of the story," as its pilot had about 15 of them mashedtogether (showbiz career desperation + the decline of qualitytelevision + past drug use + The 700 Club = huh?). But since we’repretty sure the Donnelly boys don’t have any morals at all, we’ll giveStudio 60 a special dispensation.
Winner: Studio 60

Tally up the votes, folks, and it leads to… a frustrating tie.

Which is probably logical. Though I loved the Studio 60 pilot, I was frustrated (as many viewers were) by the end of its run — but I’m not quite sure The Black Donnellys is a particularly good replacement. At the very least, Studio 60‘s pilot was better paced and had more memorable characters, though Donnelly‘s plot leads to more drama, as long as the story is told correctly.

So what do you think, PopWatchers? Who wins in the battle of NBC’s 10 p.m. Monday timeslot? Is it too early to tell with one measly Donnellys airing? (The first-night ratings aren’t promising.) Do you already miss Matt and Danny’s male bonding? Andmost importantly, who would win in a barfight, Jenny Reilly or HarrietHayes?

Comments (85 total) Add your comment
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  • Chaddogg

    More Olivia Wilde, please….

  • Karla

    Yikes, I got sick of those endless previews. Shaddup already!
    Nope, not gonna watch the crimes of the very Irish. Bored.
    Studio 60 was a mess, but it was an interesting mess. The Bleak Dunderheads looks like a mess with no interest.
    Of the two writers, Haggis – which is, by the way, a Scottish delicacy involving sheep’s innards – is mostly a hack. Crash notwithstanding.
    Sorkin wins and we all lose.

  • Tina

    I really liked both shows, and for different reasons. I get the impression that The Black Donnellys will pick up. Maybe NBC won’t air Deal or No Deal every 5 minutes and can air Studio 60 then. And while they’re at it, tell Sorkin to stop making his characters so self-important. It worked on TWW but Studio 60 is just about television its not the end of the world.

  • Phil

    I personally was a fan of STUDIO 60 and I also enjoy the Black Donnelly’s (but then again, I have a perchant for bad-ass Irish boys). Although NBC used to give such darker dramas like the Bladck Donnellys a shot on Friday nights at 10, their allocation to Studio’s Monday night slot following rating monster Heroes, confuses me a bit, but I did enjoy last night debut episode. I look forward to seeing what other trouble the Donnelly Brothers can get into, and wanna know who’s gonna be the lucky S.o.B. to tell Jenny her hubby is dead!

  • mike

    Stand Aaron Sorkin in the corner. Make him see the error of his ways. Then, let the genius write a better TV show after no one care about The Black Donnelys.

  • Fatima

    God I miss Studio 60!
    I saw the pilot of the BD’s from netflix and I didn’t even finish it. I have never been more annoyed by a character as I was the brother in jail. When he kept interupting the narrative? I want this show gone so maybe 60 can return.

  • jeff

    I can’t believe they cancelled 60. I like Donnelly’s, but come on. Scheduling seems to be the biggest issue at NBC. Whoever runs that dept should be axed, not 60.

  • Jennifer

    I think the Black Donnellys has definite promise. Also, comparing the pilot of Studio 60 to the pilot of the Black Donnellys to try and figure out which show is better is pointless. The pilot of Studio 60 was fantastic. However, everything after that was a mess– hence why the ratings steadily declined. If The Black Donnellys can keep up quality, ratings will rise by word of mouth. However, am I the only one that things The Black Donnellys would work better as a movie?

  • Anonymous

    It’s too soon to tell. I liked the Studio 60 pilot but it went rapidly downhill after that. I also liked TBD pilot but I’ll have to wait and see if the show holds up after a few more episodes.

  • John in Philly

    I was very disappointed by The Black Donnellys. Face the facts, those 4 brothers would get their asses kicked more often than the New Jersey Generals.

  • Phil

    Fatima, the one telling the story from the jailcell with the officers was NOT a Donnelly brother. He was a friend, Joey “Ice-cream” from the neighborhood.

  • Anonymous

    i’m totally on studio 60’s side. i feel like people abandoned it pretty quickly, which is sad because i think it actually got better through the season. i just wish people would allow a show to develop. sometimes, there are bad episodes, but that doesn’t mean you should stop watching. anyone remember scrubs, season one? or sienfeld season one? or desperate housewives season two?

  • Fatima

    My bad…well it was nearly 2 months ago! But still, it just shows that I really couldn’t even invest more than 30 minutes in this show without getting fed up.

  • MM

    I enjoyed the Black Donnellys pilot ep, but thought that the Irish and Italian stereotypes were a bit much. I’m neither Irish nor Italian, but I would imagine that both groups would want be portrayed as more than common thugs. Maybe as the show goes on, we’ll see a more nuanced side to the brothers.

  • lei

    The Black D’s were far more interesting and engaging than Studio 60, where it seems every week the audience was attacked with a long winded sermon. Can’t wait for next week’s B.D. and so long can’t say I will miss you Studio 60.

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