Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Studio 60 circling the drain?

Reports from the US suggest West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin's new drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, may be circling the drain before its host network cancels the series. The show opened with 13 million viewers and that number has halved in a matter of weeks, while the programme on before it - Heroes - is picking up momentum. More scripts of Studio 60 have been ordered, but if the network had real confidence it would place an order for more episodes. From what I've seen of Studio 60, it's not a patch on The West Wing and doesn't match up to Sorkin's first TV series, a sitcom based around a sports news show called Sports Night.

It's not as funny as either show, not as heartfelt as TWW and doesn't seem to know what it's trying to say. What is the theme of Studio 60? What's the big issue, the conflict engine that drives the show? Essentially, the programme is about trying to keep a failing TV show on the air. Perhaps there's some insanely clever meta-structure at work here, but Studio 60 is essentially a failing TV show about a failing TV show. Stop me when we reach infinite recursion.

Closer to home, I spent Saturday listening to radio drama in preparation for the BBC Radio drama lab I start in two days' time [yikes]. Producer David Ian Neville sent out three recent radio plays for those attending to hear in advance of the lab. Kitty Elizabeth Must Die by Louise Ironside was broadcast back in July, as part of The Wire on Radio 3. The Wire's a strand that commissions more cutting edge material and gets broadcast after the watershed, enabling more adult content. I first met Louise at a seminar in February, where she talked about breaking in as a writer on River City.

Only afterwards did I realise she was one of the other writers on the Women's Hour drama strand to which I was contributing, Island Blue. Louise's star seems to be in the ascendent. She's become a regular contributor to River City, with a script on screen once a month at the moment, and her episodes are fast emerging as among my favourites on the Scottish soap. I decided to listen to her radio play first and Kitty Elizabeth Must Die did not disappoint - funny, wry and thought-provoking.

Next up was The Sensitive by Alastair Jessiman, an afternoon play about a psychic who sometimes helps the police solve missing persons cases. That was gripping stuff, though I got confused about keeping all the characters separate in my head by the end. I suspect that was a lack of concentration on my part, but must radio plays are meant to be clearly comprehensible for people doing two tasks at once - guess I must have been doing three tasks. The last play of the three supplied was not to my taste, but I won't badmouth it by name here. It had an interesting central notion, but I found it hard to like or care about any of the characters, so it didn't engage or sustain my interest. My loss, I guess.

Sunday I spent watching Spooks for my spy-fi project, while yesterday morning was devoted to reworking a feature for the Megazine. The editor wanted a more diverse, thematic approach to the material, whereas my first effort was more chronological and thus a little dry. Plus Matt encouraged me to include more opinion, something that - perhaps surprisingly for anyone who reads this blog - doesn't come easily to me. As a trainee journalist I had all trace of subjectivity thrashed out of me. In New Zealand, reporters are trained to be objective above all else, and never to include themselves in a story if at all possible. Overcoming that sort of indoctrination from early in life is never easy, at least not for me. Yesterday afternoon I started watching Tora! Tora! Tora as reference for my next novel. Today it'll be From Here to Eternity, and some documentaries about WWII in the Pacific. So, no prizes for guessing what my next novel is about.


English Dave said...

It's a shame that studio 60 isn't getting the ratings. It might be heading the same way as another of my favoutites, Arrested Development.

Doomsayer said...

re: more opinion in features

Tell me about it! One of the hardest parts of writing those features has been to hastily form my own opinions on work I've only just read as part of my research.

Coming soon from the Molcher Featurama: Pat Mills, an angry man ...