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Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a show that had all the right ingredients to obtain success when it premiered back in 2006. The cast was filled with actors who excelled in both comedy and drama, the Monday night time slot was solid, and The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin was the creator and primary writer on the series. Expectations were high. Unfortunately, Studio 60 lasted for only a single season on NBC. Actor Steven Weber had a key role in the series, and he has come out and shared his thoughts on why the show failed:
Here's my view of what happened. Coming off of The West Wing, there were such high expectations for Aaron Sorkin. Not only as a creative producer/writer but as the now infamous personality. He'd battled his own demons and high-profile drug stuff and relationship stuff, so that was as compelling to the press as the possibility that he would have another great show. But to me, something happened with Studio 60. People for some reason, and this happens, had been sharpening their knives for Aaron Sorkin and I don't know why. It's like you're about to give birth and people are standing around and the baby is born and immediately they start saying, 'Why is he crying? Why isn't the baby standing and talking? You're not a good parent!' And that's what they did to Studio 60, they immediately leapt on this new creation and immediately compared it to West Wing and any other movie he'd done and attacked the admittedly dramatic dialogue. He loves language, he's not equipped with low-brow exchanges that pass for a lot of drama. He loves the written word and goddamn it, actors love to hear it, love to say it. It was really enjoyable. There were also things that went wrong because there was not a lot of love for that show. There was network pressure. We suddenly found ourselves in some unlikely and ridiculous competition with 30 Rock.
Going by Steven Weber's thoughts on the Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip cancellation, it seems that bad timing had a lot to do with why the show never got more than a single season. The West Wing had come to an end after seven seasons in May 2006, and folks who were already in West Wing withdrawal may have tuned in to Aaron Sorkin's new project expecting something somehow similar despite clear differences between the premises. Studio 60 was a dramedy set behind the scenes on a live sketch comedy show; The West Wing was a political drama followed the ups and downs of the White House staff. West Wing star Bradley Whitford had a leading role on Studio 60, and comparisons were not likely to be in favor of the new show. After all, The West Wing was really pretty great, and Studio 60 was very young.
The timing was also off thanks to the fact that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip happened to debut in the same TV season as the NBC sitcom 30 Rock, which was also set behind the scenes on a live comedy show. The Tina Fey show was decidedly comedic and showed off her roots as an SNL writer and cast member; Aaron Sorkin's dramedy seemed somewhat silly in comparison. Studio 60 was never designed as a show in the same genre as 30 Rock, but their shared 2006 premieres on the same network meant that one probably had to go. Aaron Sorkin's post-West Wing notoriety sadly did not help him with this project.
Interestingly, Aaron Sorkin wasn't active behind the scenes on The West Wing for its final three seasons. He left the show after Season 4 in a move that changed the tone of the show forever. In addition to his role as creator and showrunner, Sorkin had written or co-written most of the episodes over the first four years of the drama. After struggling with drug problems and studio disagreements, he handed the show over to another showrunner and never watched another episode of the show.
Steven Weber's reveal to A.V. Club indicates that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip perhapshad the potential to become a huge hit if it had the chance to establish itself without comparison to other excellent NBC shows. We can only wonder what might have been if the show hadn't been cancelled. Check out our midseason TV premiere schedule for a look at what is currently on the air.