An NBC ensemble show that premiered in 2006 about life behind the scenes at a fictional sketch comedy show. No, not the one with Tina Fey. You're thinking of 30 Rock. This one was the one created by Aaron Sorkin, was an hour-long, had a much more dramatic slant, and ended up lasting only a single season.After the creator of failing sketch-comedy show "Studio Sixty on the Sunset Strip" is fired for launching into an angry improvised rant on the state of television during a live broadcast, former writers Danny Tripp (now a producer barred from his next Hollywood film for testing positive for cocaine) and Matt Albie (presumed Author Avatar for Sorkin) are called in by plucky new network executive Jordan McDeere and her amoral boss Jack Rudolph to save the Show Within a Show, which stars Harriet Hayes (a fundamentalist Christian and Matt Albie's ex-girlfriend), Tom Jeter (all-American midwesterner with a brother serving in Afghanistan), and Simon Stiles (the Token Minority and not particularly pleased with it). Each week the cast deals with personal and professional issues in front of and behind the camera as they try to make sure the show gets off the ground. And politics. Lots and lots of politics. For some reason.
This show provides examples of:
Aborted Arc: Wasn't there a reporter writing an article?
Alliterative Name: Harriet Hayes (née Hannah Harriet Hayes), Simon Stiles, and even the name of the show itself.
All-Star Cast: This was a TV show with a feature-film-worthy cast of regulars. A large part of the reason the show didn't get renewed for a second season was because the cast was just so darn expensive.
Author Catch Phrase (the very last episode was "What Kind of Day Has It Been" — and there are likely others.)
In "The Wrap Party," Tom says that his parents seem not to understand that he could "buy [their] house four times and turn it into [his] ping-pong room." In "4 AM Miracle," Matt talks about other people claiming they wrote a script of his and dismissing it because "if they’d written it, they’d have written it." Both lines are echoed in The Social Network.
Cannot Tell a Joke: Harriet. You'd think this would hurt her career, but it seems she's mainly a comic actress/impressionist — that is, she's capable of being funny, just not of telling a conventional 'joke' joke.
Casting Gag: Out lesbian Sarah Paulson as the Christian Harriet Hayes, whose ambiguous feelings about gay marriage factor significantly into the plot of "Nevada Day."
Doubly so during a conversation between her and Jordan about fixing the bad press she got from commenting on it.
Jordan: Here's what I need you to do to fix it—
Harriet (Sarcastically): By going on the cover of Newsweek and saying I’m gay?
Jordan: Would you be willing to do that? I'm kidding!
Celebrity Paradox: The Show Within a Show has actors and comedians as celebrity guests, but not all of them are more famous than the show's own actors. Best way to tell is if you haven't seen them in a previous episode, they're As Themselves.
Particulary weird was Allison Janney as herself, as she was (and is) most famous for her role on The West Wing, a show written and directed by Sorkin which co-starred Bradley Whitford that had Timothy Busfield as a frequent supporting cast member and Janney's love interest.
Even weirder: Janney indicated to another character that this person had her confused with Christine Lahti. Earlier in the season, Christine Lahti had guest-starred, playing a reporter.
Crosses the Line Twice: Subverted (off-camera), and deconstructed in "The Option Period", when Matt complains about an (unseen) sketch, "Quentin Tarantino's Hallmark Movie 'Turkey Won't Die'", that a clueless special-effects guy ruins by curtailing the scripted excessive blood, thereby un-crossing the second line, so to speak. invoked
Danny: He didn't think it was realistic.
Matt: The prop guy?
Matt: It's called "Quentin Tatantino's Hallmark Movie, Turkey Won't Die." It's about a mortally wounded bird that will not die, even as it's being served. Did he find the premise realistic?... If geysers of blood are gushing out, then I get the Tarantino joke, and it's funny. If it's just a realistic amount of blood, then it's... extremelydisturbing...
Dueling Shows: 30 Rock. If you went back in time to 2006 and told someone 30 Rock would last seven seasons while Studio 60 would only get one before being unceremoniously canceled, you would have been laughed out of the room. Oh, and just add in the fact that 30 Rock has won three straight Emmys for Best Comedy while Studio 60 never even managed a nomination for Best Drama and then they'll really think you must be joking. Everyone expected Studio 60 would be the next West Wing and that 30 Rock would be gone long before. That said, Tina Fey has said that Sorkin had nothing but the best wishes for her show, even sending her a dozen roses the week 30 Rock premiered.
Sorkin cameoed as himself in a fifth-season episode of 30 Rock:
To be more specific, Cal and Tom decapitate it in a guillotine (to be fair, they didn't think it would work) and when asked to repair it, the prop guys have a little fun and makes its head pop up on a spring and its eyes bug out.
Hollywood Atheist - Heartbreakingly averted by Danny Tripp refusing to kneel to a god that would kill children, after getting the "foxhole" speech from Harriet and with his pregnant fiancee at risk of dying.
How We Got Here: 'Nevada Day' - How Tom Got to a police station in Pahrump, Nevada, dressed as Jesus Christ and charged with drug possession, assault and speeding.
Info Dump: Literally ten minutes of "The Long Lead Story" is Harriet describing her Back Story in detail.
Ladies and Germs: as an added note of sarcasm and incredulity when Matt Albie remembers to her ex-girlfriend (and the audience) that she doesn't have the right to question who he is dating because she broke with him, and she did it by e-mail.
Danny: Don't we have bigger fish to fry right now?
Jack: No. We have many fish to fry, and this is one of 'em. And this fish... is a fish that... [angrily] I don't care about fish!
Lower Deck Episode: "The Disaster Episode," which has Cal and the cast juggling the latest live show without the help of Danny, Matt, Jordan, or the props crew (who are on strike because of an insult Danny threw at them 10 minutes before taping, resulting in the titular "disaster show"). With the exception of Harriet, none of the show's primary characters appear.
Right Behind Me: Tom does an excellent one of these when he bombs into his dressing room and refers to Kim as "that lunatic girl"...without realizing her very important parents are standing right there.
Running Gag: Sorkin loves to incorporate throw-away running gags, often with each instance rephrasing the joke from a different angle. For example, one episode supposedly had off-camera guest-host (and real-life Malaproper) Jessica Simpson filling in extra airtime at the end of the fictional show's live broadcast:
Cal: Nice girl, nice performer... don't want her to extemporize on our air. She had time to thank her pets, and then she asked us all to pray for peace in the Midwest.
The regulars continue wisecracking about this as the (real) show continues.
Matt: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri... are rebel forces gathering?
Matt: Then why are we praying for peace in the Midwest?
Danny: Girl's nice to look at.
Jordan: Good show! ... I saw the end, and I think we should all take a moment to consider the suffering in Des Moines.
Serious Business: They work on an SNL ripoff, yet Matt and Danny act as if they are writing an important Social Drama about Society's Ills. Sorkin's usual dramatic style, which worked so well on The West Wing, might seem a bit jarring in this context... which isn't to say that TV writers don't act like their job is more important than the President's.
Definitely a case of Reality Is Unrealistic, since former SNL castmembers have suggested that if anything S60 was too light and fluffy to represent the real thing.
Spit Take: there's a scene where all the comics compete backstage to deliver the best one.
Stalker with a Crush: Danny is one of these to Jordan for a while, but as soon as he backs off they get together anyway.
Many viewers were disturbed by this storyline, since it appeared to be asking us to root for Danny despite his acting more like he was going to kill Jordan.
Stop Being Stereotypical: Simon is disappointed and almost depressed that a heavily praised black stand up comedian he has gone to see performs nothing but cliched racial humor and White Dude, Black Dude jokes. However, the comedian who goes on next, though not very funny in that particular performance, has legitimately witty things to say and is recruited onto the the Studio 60 writing staff to help nurture his talent and bring a new perspective to the show.
Take Our Word for It: We never see the sketches that are supposed to be bad — "Peripheral Vision Man"; "Turkey won't Die" — just informed that they were BAD. If they'd also left the "best" sketches off-screen, the idea that the Show Within a Show is generally hilarious would have gone down a lot easier.
The entire concept of the pilot is a massive Take That towards ABC (which cancelled Sports Night) and NBC (which ran The West Wing, from which Sorkin ... "quit"). Matt Albie, the Sorkin self-insert, is an incredibly talented writer. People can't get over how talented he is. He's so talented and classy that they've just got to repeat it over and over again. Sadly, his intelligence and outspokenness are far superior to that of the network, which fires him, after which point his show steadily declines until they are forced to come grovelling back to him. Later, Jordan fights to pick up a pilot for a show written about the UN with striking similarities to The West Wing, gushing over the excellent scripting.
Aaron Sorkin based the character of Harriet Hayes (the ex-girlfriend of his self-insert character Matt) on his ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth (with permission), and aims several Take Thats at Chenoweth through the character's interactions, specifically regarding Chenoweth's decision to appear on The 700 Club and an FHM bathing-suit photo-shoot of Chenoweth's, employing the other characters to lambaste Harriet for her decision to do a lingerie shoot.
Also at former West Wing writer Rick Cleveland, with whom Sorkin had a public feud over "In Excelsis Deo", an episode which the two co-wrote. Cleveland is written into Studio 60 as Ricky Tahoe. Ricky is time and again characterized as a hack, a nasty little man who publicly ostracized Matt over a controversial statement Matt had made. He ultimately leaves the show with a crappily written pilot script, petulantly taking the entire writing staff with him. In a rare moment of class just before Ricky departs, Matt secretly gives Ron suggestions on how to improve the problematic script.
It's worth noting that even though they almost always eventually lose, the characters used for the Take That are usually painted as sympathetic and do have legitimate points that are acknowledged in universe.
Matt gets plenty of atheistic Take That's in against Christianity, Christians, Harriet's faith, and people of faith in general. Everyone will tell you that. What no one seems to want to admit is that Harriet generally wins these arguments whenever she gets Matt to shut up long enough to EXPLAIN her position.
Undermined By Reality: One of the main contentions of Jordan's character is that high-budget, high-quality programming is truly what America wants, and the network will be successful if they avoid cheesy trashy reality programming. It turns out it isn't.
Who's On First? Mentioned in 'The Wrap Party', where Tom is amazed that his parents somehow haven't heard of the routine. He starts trying to explain it (solo) before wisely deciding that "trying to describe it to you now is just going to turn into a whole new sketch".