/ october 2006:
TV: Amanda peet & aaron sorkin
by Gerri Miller
Series Premiere: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on NBC, Sept. 18 @ 10:00 pm
At a time when NBC is floundering in fourth place and desperately in need of a new hit, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, an inside look at network politics and the people behind the scenes at a Saturday Night Live-like sketch comedy show, has emerged as not only the designated network savior but the buzz-worthy likely score of the fall season.
It certainly has the pedigree. The show comes from executive producer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Sports Night) and features many alumni of the White House drama, including Bradley Whitford, Timothy Busfield and Wing recurring guest star Matthew Perry. Whitford and Perry play a writing team hired by new entertainment chief Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) to resurrect the show.
“It’s about a group of people committed to professionalism, committed to each other, committed to what they’re doing,” describes Sorkin, shrugging off the notion of network-imposed pressure to succeed. “We understand that NBC has high hopes for the show, and that’s something to be proud of. But honest to God, we max out on the pressure we put on ourselves.”
“Everybody is bringing their A game,” confirms Steven Weber, who plays network chairman Jack Rudolph. “There is no B game with Aaron. No sliding around. On this show you break a sweat.”
Sorkin dismisses questions that the show might be too “inside TV” for the average viewer. “Whenever I hear that question I just think, ‘Isn’t CSI a little inside the coroner’s office?’ I think it’s an advantage because you’re taking an audience to a place that is different and you’re humanizing the people who are dealing with that new place. I don’t worry about it.”
Never one to shy away from characters with strong religious or political identities, Sorkin has made Matthew Perry’s character Jewish and his love interest Harriet, a sketch actor played by Sarah Paulson, a right-wing evangelical Christian. “These two characters are meant to represent the right and the left side of the social spectrum,” says the Jewish Sorkin. “But they’re more than one thing,” he reminds, adding that the conflict between them will serve to highlight issues in “the culture wars.”
While the characters are fictional, Sorkin directly based Peet’s character on his friend Jamie Tarses, the network executive at NBC who greenlit Sports Night and now serves as a Studio 60 consultant, “with a little Stacy Snider, Gail Berman, Nina Tassler and any number of powerful, influential women in Hollywood” thrown in.
Peet, for her part, jumped at the chance to play her. “I wasn’t actively looking to do a television show,” she says, but the script changed her mind, and brought her back to TV for the first time since Jack & Jill. Studio 60 reunites her with Sarah Paulson, her co-star from that series and a close friend ever since and with Matthew Perry, with whom she worked in The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel.
“She’s a very young woman in a very powerful position, and I think she’s really smart and funny,” says Peet of Jordan, enjoying the conflict she gets to portray between the creatives and the corporation “while trying to protect the artists and not toe the party line.” She also likes the Prada outfits she gets to wear, but insists that she’s not that fashionable off screen. “I have someone help me be stylish.”
Peet, who has completed filming The Martian Child with John Cusack and Fast Track with Zach Braff, is engaged to screenwriter David Benioff but becomes guarded when asked about her personal life. She does, however, allow that her mother is helping plan her Jewish wedding. Now if only Sorkin will give her a day off.
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