I wanted to walk through a few allusions in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, to show on how many levels Aaron Sorkin’s writing works. You don’t need to have noticed any of this to love the show; much of it works on a subliminal level anyway.
This post is, I think, a good example of the intellectual back-patting that Ping33 and Salon.com have complained about. While I still think Studio 60 is one of the best shows on television, I will admit that some of the old Sorkin magic is missing. Until I am ready to articulate exactly what has gone wrong, however, I want to concentrate on what I do like, even if it is exactly what others hate; the show has problems, but I don't think the smart stuff I am going to discuss in this post and at least two others is among them.
Sorkin alludes to his two other television shows in the teaser to the pilot of Studio 60. Long before Desperate Housewives and Transamerica Felicity Huffman was one of the main stars of Sorkin’s Sports Night, like Studio 60, a television show about putting on a television show. She is here to remind viewers of the continuity between Sports Night and Studio 60. When Judd Hirsch interrupts the fictional Studio 60’s live broadcast, he interrupts a sketch about George Bush in the Oval Office; Tommy Schlamme – Sorkin’s main director on both Sports Night and the West Wing – alludes to their second earlier show as he copies his famous camera push through the Oval Office Window – though here he breaks into a sketch comedy recreation of the Oval Office of George Bush rather than President Bartlett’s Oval Office. The set of the West Wing was the most expensive set ever built for a television pilot; here we see it for what it always was – a set.
At the end of the second episode of Studio 60 Steven Webber says to Amanda Peete “You’ve got spunk, kid,” and she replies, and he says it with her, “I hate spunk.” It works even if you don’t know where it is coming from, but it works better if you know that the line is from the pilot of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Like Amanda Peete’s character Mary, on the show, is a single woman trying to make a career behind the scenes of a television show. And of course, the line quoted in the show is delivered by Ed Asner, who had a cameo in the pilot of Studio 60, and appears in episode five.