Aaron Sorkin’s Return to Television

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Entertainment Weekly mentions John Wells’ new television show, Southland, but primarily uses this as an excuse to discuss his old partner Aaron Sorkin:

Privately, though, I wish that NBC was throwing its cash at Wells’ old producing partner, whose long-awaited comeback to television is about a year behind schedule. I speak of Aaron Sorkin, the man behind last year’s fabulously written Charlie Wilson’s War, who’s best remembered by boob-tube-o-philes as the genius who, along with Wells, gave us The West Wing (and, well, the sexy Brad Whitford). I miss Sorkin’s marvelous repartee, even when it came in the form of a blustery, behind-the-scenes look at a late-night variety show called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Since the 2006-07 drama only lasted a season, Sorkin can’t be wanting that show to represent his final contribution to the TV dramas. It’s only a matter of time before he brings us more of that intelligent, rat-a-tat banter — right?

Well, it just so happens that we may be seeing him soon — just not in the way we’d expect. A source close to Sorkin says the uber-writer is in talks with Entourage to guest star on the comedy once it returns to HBO in July. And there may be more good news on the horizon: Although his dance card is filled with must-finish screenplays (a Facebook movie! A courtroom drama for George Clooney called The Challenge!) word is that Sorkin is mulling over the idea of a new TV drama that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a cable news program (think: Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC). Though I’m not all that thrilled at the prospect of yet another behind-the-scenes show, I’ll take what I can get if it means Sorkin will (finally!) be back on TV.

Sorkin’s behind the scene look at a late-night variety show failed partially because it wasn’t what Sorkin was really interested in. Sorkin moved the show increasingly into politics as opposed to show business. As I discussed, in response to criticism of Studio 60 when it was on:

The criticisms are largely true, but miss the point. Those looking for a show about a SNL-type show are inevitably going to be disappointed. It fails to capture how such a show is really written, and fails to show its humor. However, Studio 60 is no more about a comedy show than Sports Night was really about a sports show. Studio 60 is really just a way to continue The West Wing in a new venue. The ultimate tip off is having the White House Deputy Chief of Staff as producer of the show within the show…

Studio 60 is about Aaron Sorkin characters speaking Aaron Sorkin dialog about the issues which matter to Aaron Sorkin. It doesn’t matter whether these characters are in the White House or on the set of a television show. Those who want a funny show about making a television show should buy the DVD’s of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Studio 60 is a totally different type of show, but hopefully setting it in an SNL-like television show is enough to get enough people to give it a try and possibly get hooked.

On television it is difficult to build an audience when a show appears to be about one thing but is really aimed at a different audience. Similarly, look at how much trouble Friday Night Lights has had because many potential viewers never gave this excellent drama a chance thinking it was primarily about college football. (Fortunately their arrangement with Direct TV will be keeping it around for at least two more years despite its low ratings.) I don’t know if there is enough of an audience for Sorkin’s planned show, but at least having it about an Olbermann-type show is closer to Sorkin’s real interests than a show like Saturday Night Live and viewers will know what to expect.

Most importantly, I hope to see a return of Sorkin’s “intelligent, rat-a-tat banter” in some form. With both Sorkin and Amy Sherman-Paladino (of Gilmore Girls) being without current shows I do miss this type of dialog which nobody else comes close to matching.

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