CHECKING INTO STUDIO 60
A visit to the set of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was an opportunity to see what goes into the making of quality TV. The show not only boasts outstanding performers in front of the cameras—such as Bradley Whitford (West Wing), Matthew Perry (Friends), Steven Weber (The Shining), and Amanda Peet (Syriana)—but also the wunderkind of television writers, Aaron Sorkin, behind the scenes. And there’s the expert hand of executive producer/director Thomas Schlamme, who guided The West Wing for many years. Having that kind of talent connected with the show is probably why NBC has shown support for the struggling series with a full season pick-up.
On a morning before rehearsal, we ventured over to Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, and Schlamme was the first person to greet us. Tommy and I shared a personal joke about our wardrobe, and we were off to discuss more serious matters, such as creating the right atmosphere for the show. “We had to build a set that had a history,” he pointed out as we looked around the impressive soundstage. It looked as though we were inside an old art deco theater that had been converted into a broadcast studio.
“That’s the idea. It’s unbelievably realistic, thanks to the miracles Hollywood craftsmen can pull off.” There is the balcony, and mazes of hallways and side offices that facilitate the fast-paced walk-and-talk scenes that are a Sorkin signature from his West Wing and Sports Night days. Walls are covered with fake vintage posters, photos, and cue cards from the make-believe NBS Network. It’s all there to give the place an interesting history, rivaled only by the background of the show’s characters.
“The history of entertainment is just filled with individuals, and this is a show about people who are in this business. It’s not a show about the inside language of the business, but about the people who entertain us and what they go through. We’re exploring the process with the group of people who are working here,” Tommy explained, noting that people from different walks of life can identify with the characters, because of the universality of their experiences and emotions.
Chatting with DL Hughley, he said he’s a consulting producer because he contributes authenticity when it comes to comedy for the series about putting on a Saturday Night Live-inspired sketch show. Yes, DL is a skilled comic, and has been highly-praised by Bill Maher as one of his favorite guests on HBO’s Real Time, making astute political statements with humor.
In upcoming Studio 60 episodes, two relationships will dominate the storylines. The one between Whitford and Peet is complicated by her pregnancy and the fact that she is his boss. And Perry says he’ll be showing a “dark side” when he and Harriet (played by Sarah Paulson) split, “going into a bit of a downward spiral. It’s a great thing to be exploring, because happy couples get kind of boring to watch.”