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I love this article about the failure of Studio 60. It’s an interview with Aaron Sorkin by admirer but not apologist Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times. TV Tattle‘s hilarious link to it is headlined: “Aaron Sorkin attempts to blame himself for Studio 60’s failure,” and it’s apt. He takes total and absolute responsibility for the failure until he starts laying the blame elsewhere.

But until it ends heavily on a dissection of our celebrity obsessed culture, Goldstein packages it all up in a way that rings true to me as a person who still admires Sorkin’s writing despite the mess that Studio 60 became, but has had enough of hearing about him as a person.

Goldstein outlines the top 100 ways to deal with failure in Hollywood (though I have to say if I were editing the article, I’d have pointed out that he seems to be conflating ways of dealing with failure and reasons for failure):

  1. Take responsibility. “I don’t know how to emphasize this enough that I’m not disappointed or upset with anyone but myself,” says Sorkin … “There are only two possible reasons for ‘Studio 60’ failing — it was either my fault or it was just one of those things. On some shows, you can make mistakes and still survive. But with this one, I made too many mistakes for it to survive.”
  2. Schadenfreude: “Rightly or wrongly, Aaron got a reputation as holier than thou,” [Bernie] Brillstein explains. “When you put yourself out front in the media, like Aaron did or Judd Apatow is right now, everyone is lying in wait for you. That’s the psychology of the town. Once you’re anointed, everyone wants the king to fail.”
  3. Insularity: “When you’re doing a show, you’re living entirely in that world, only trying to deal with all the issues in your show,” says [Paul] Haggis [about The Black Donnellys]. “But then the show goes into people’s homes and it becomes their show. Suddenly you have no control over what happens. And when you discover that the stories you’re telling don’t have the same meaning to other people that they did to you — wow, it’s a real smack in the face.”
  4. to 100. Laying blame: “When all everyone does is try to draw personal connections between your characters and real people, you’re not really watching a play or a TV show anymore,” [Sorkin] says. “It becomes a tabloid experience.”

I loved, loved, loved Sports Night and The West Wing. I have great fondness for The American President and A Few Good Men (yes, in that order – I know, I know, but I’m a sap). And while I tend to know more than I care to about celebrities’ private lives, pre-Studio 60 I knew very little about Sorkin other than the drug bust everyone knew about. So when I started reading all these parallels between the characters and plots on Studio 60 and his life, it ruined the magic a little. It made me like Harriet Hayes a little less, to see that she might be Sorkin’s answer to issues he had when dating Kristin Chenowith. Knowing about his kerfuffle with Internet fan sites made the scenes where he denigrates them a little less interesting. The sanctimonious diatribes against the state of TV started to feel a little like Sorkin’s manifesto, rather than the show’s point of view. So Sorkin’s not completely wrong about that, though he’s not blameless in that either.

The reason I’m not as enamoured with the article when it gets into the issue of his celebrity is that all that only affected my enjoyment of the show a little. It certainly didn’t make me think, by the end, that it had as long a run as it deserved. Mostly, Goldstein hits it squarely with this:

He is a rare breed of writer today who uses both humor and a bracing moral seriousness to wrestle with the complexity of the real world. But “Studio 60,” as good as some individual episodes were, never seemed to find a consistent voice, a must for must-see TV. It was, in hindsight, a bad idea, if for no other reason than it tried to graft Sorkin’s fascination with social issues onto a story about career crises in the rarified world of TV comedy writers. But that made the show only more irresistible — we got to see a brilliant writer try to breathe life into a doomed premise.

And Sorkin hits another point squarely with this:

“Expectations were high and I couldn’t come close to meeting them, so you’d have to say our show failed in a big way,” he explains. “But when you get to write 22 episodes and have them produced exactly the way you want — well, as someone I know once described it, ‘Things are OK when the things you complain about are the things you used to dream about.’ “