To better understand Studio 60, take a look back at Sorkin’s first TV venture, Sports Night. That show also centered on a relatively trifling TV product (an ESPN-esque sports-highlight show) and a male friendship (the show’s two anchors). That show’s pilot also featured a speech in which one of the principals announces he won’t be held hostage to a viewing audience of 11-year-old boys. (On Studio 60, the boorish viewers are 12-year-olds, a slight bump in the average age of philistines.)
And in Sports Night, one anchor gives a fervid speech to his colleague about how your co-workers are your true family, a clan more reliable and steadfast, certainly, than his co-worker’s bitch of an ex-wife. This is Sorkin’s credo: Your life is your work is your life. In Studio 60, it’s Perry and Whitford—the wronged, expelled geniuses—who swap drug-relapse confessions and share the manly hugs. Then they trot out to address their new charges, one of whom, like Tiny Tim, asks with a quavering voice, “Are you coming to save us?”
Sorkin’s coming to save us. And, while he’s at it, to rewrite his own history. Studio 60 is a grown-up show with a schoolyard agenda: prime-time drama as vindication fantasy. There is no end of dramatic—and, Lord knows, comedic—possibility in a behind-the-curtain look at late-night comedy, but Sorkin focuses instead on a redemption tale about TV creators who are treated like saviors and welcomed back with hosannas. The extent to which you’ll root for Sorkin and his Studio 60 stand-ins, however, depends on whether you too can equate the running of a TV show with the running of the free world and cheer the return of its deposed, disgruntled king.