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Series / Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

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A.K.A. The other NBC behind-the-scenes of a sketch comedy show.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a 2006 NBC ensemble show about life behind the scenes at a fictional failing 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:

  • Alliterative Name: Harriet Hayes (née Hannah Harriet Hayes), Simon Stiles, and even the name of the show itself.
  • Anti-Climax: The final episode has two. Tom must decide whether to negotiate with people who have his brother hostage behind the government’s back. Danny meanwhile must decide whether to forge Jordan’s (who is experiencing severe complications after giving birth) signature on paperwork that would name him the legal guardian of Jordan’s child if Jordan should die. By the end of the episode the plots resolve themselves and neither needs to make any decision.
  • As Himself: The celebrity guests are this to the power of two; Rob Reiner as Rob Reiner, as Rob Reiner!
  • Author Avatar: Both Matt and Danny are this, for various reasons. Danny has a lot of cynicism and substance-addiction issues. Matt has a whole host of writing-related issues as well as attraction to women who are often incompatible with him. Both represent Sorkin pretty well.
  • 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.
  • Author Tract: Inevitable with a Sorkin show, although not nearly to the levels of The Newsroom or the heights of The West Wing. Mostly it's about the processes of Hollywood and the stupidity of Executive Meddling which, depending on your view, may or may not have helped.
  • 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: Openly bisexual Sarah Paulson as the conservative 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: In the episode The Cold Open, Jack and Jordan quote the series premiere episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which Lou Grant (played by Edward Asner) tells Mary Richards, "You've got spunk.... I hate spunk." Which only becomes an issue because Jack's boss, Wilson White, the head of the conglomerate that owns the fictional NBS network, is a recurring character played by Ed Asner. Also, 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.
    • Particularly 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.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: An instance of double-cell-phone-failure is used to Hand Wave the obvious solution to the locked-out-on-the-roof plot.
  • Commedia dell'Arte: Rarely seen but often mentioned, a regular sketch on the Show Within a Show, starring Jeanie (although it's not clear which of the roles she plays).
  • Completely Unnecessary Translator: The Macau investor.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Invoked, subverted (off-camera), and deconstructed in "The Option Period", when Matt complains about an (unseen) sketch 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?
    Danny: Yeah.
    Matt: It's called "Quentin Tarantino'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... extremely disturbing...
  • A Day in the Limelight: "The Disaster Episode," for Cal (and possibly Allison Janney too).
  • Deadpan Snarker: Many. This is an Aaron Sorkin drama after all.
  • Egg Sitting: The practice baby. It explodes.
    • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: In "The Friday Night Slaughter", Matt is frustrated that no one seems to remember Tim Batale, a writer for the show who was fired in 1999 for popping pills. An attentive viewer may notice that "Tim Batale" is an anagram for "Matt Albie", which foreshadows The Reveal at the end of the episode that "Tim" is a false memory Matt's mind came up with because he himself is high on pills, making "Tim" a reflection of the issues he's facing at the moment.
  • Fox News Liberal: Pretty much everyone that is not a progressive or a jerkass.
  • Hollywood Atheist: 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.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: At the start of "K & R Part 3," an exasperated Jack is looking around Danny's office for something to drink. "Danny's an alcoholic," Simon tells him. Jack then demands Simon apologize for an angry rant at the press that was covered on television.
    Simon: Jack?
    Jack: Yeah?
    Simon: Fire me or shut the hell up.
    Jack: ...He really doesn't keep anything to drink here?
  • Info Dump: Literally ten minutes of "The Long Lead Story" is Harriet describing her Back Story in detail.
  • Informed Ability: One of the most common criticisms of the series is it's regular use of this trope. From what we hear, Matt writes a transcendent experience filled with cutting satire that has everyone talking the Monday after. What we see is a very generic sketch show that falls far below expectations.
  • 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.
  • Locked in a Room: or roof, rather, with Danny and Jordan
  • Metaphorgotten: Jack unwisely attempting Witty Banter with Danny.
    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 Show" 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.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Matt manipulates Dylan (with a little help from Jeanie) in Nevada Day, but it's Danny who really owns this trope, at least where Matt is concerned:
    Matt: and... (Beat) There was no conversation with standards and practices, was there?
    Danny: I am the puppet master.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Parodied in-show, with a sketch about a newsflash for a Missing White Woman's Cellphone which makes a throwaway reference to a bunch of kidnapped black people.
  • N-Word Privileges: Darius and Simon use this against each other, although it's meant to be antagonizing to make a point rather than friendly.
  • Overly-Long Gag: Danny parodies the "Banker" Padding segments of Deal or No Deal in a sketch with Howie Mandell.
  • Parental Favoritism: Tom's parents, rather unsubtly.
  • Product Placement: In-Universe, the network wants Studio 60 to incorporate PP in the show but Matt is against it. Then he realizes he can put it into the backdrop, which will resemble the Sunset Strip — full of ads.
  • Ratings Stunt: in the first episode back after the forced hiatus, several ratings stunts often used by dramas in ratings trouble are listed. The show goes on to do ALL of them over the next five episodes, but manages to make them work anyway.
  • Recitation Handclasp: The cast assumed this posture while singing their version of the Major General Song.
  • 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?
      Danny: No.
      Matt: Then why are we praying for peace in the Midwest?
      Danny: Girl's nice to look at.
    • ...and finally...
      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 Saturday Night Live 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, since former SNL castmembers have suggested that if anything S60 was too light and fluffy to represent the real thing.
  • Set Behind the Scenes: Set backstage of a comedy TV show.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In "Breaking News," Jack states that they have a "4.8/15" ratings/share.
    • The opening episode, with its Creator Breakdown rant, is a Shout-Out to Howard Beale's similar breakdown in the movie Network.
  • 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.
  • 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 (ironic given that those types of jokes are a big part of D.L. Hughley's stand-up comedy in real life). 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. Nor do we ever see the "Crazy Christians" sketch, whose cancellation set off the on-screen rant that got Wes Mendell fired, despite all the buildup about how hilarious (and controversial) it supposedly was.
  • Take That!: All. The. Time.
    • 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 holds her own whenever she gets Matt to shut up long enough to EXPLAIN her position.
  • Throwing Out the Script: The first scene of the pilot.
  • Token Minority: Simon and Harriet. He's the token black, she's the token Christian.
  • The Un-Favourite: Tom, compared to his soldier younger brother.
  • Walk and Talk: Duh. It's a Sorkin show, after all.
    Danny: Can we have this conversation moving?
  • White Dude, Black Dude: Simon is dismayed to find a hotly tipped black stand-up's material is nothing but this.
  • 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".
  • Will They or Won't They?
  • Writer on Board: Want to know in excruciating detail what Aaron Sorkin thinks about any topic? Boy, is this the show for you!
  • Writers Suck:
    • Unless they're named "Matt Albie".
    • No one else might think so, but Matt's usually convinced that he's tanking.
  • Worst News Judgement Ever: In this world, somehow, the decade-ago DUI arrest of a showrunner is treated as a front-page scandal and topping news cycles.