Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip/Pilot
Pilot is the first episode of the first season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and the first episode overall. The producer of Studio 60 is fired when he goes on a long rant about the state of television, leading the new head of the network to bring in Matt and Danny.
Studio 60 opens on its 20th season with Simon Stiles explaining to the audience what will happen up until the monologue. While he throws the show to the band, on a subway car set Wes Mendell is in mid-argument with the NBS network censor, who demands that he cut a sketch that would offend "religious people." Begrudgingly, Mendell cuts the sketch and replaces with Peripheral-Vision Man, a far less intelligent sketch.
The show starts with Tom Jeter in a cold opening about President Bush, until he's stopped by Mendell, who hijacks the show for a long diatribe about the poor state of television. His comments set the network censor off, who races to the control room in order to have Mendell's speech cut. Cal Shanley, director of the show, hesitates for nearly a minute before sending the show to the video-tape recording (and the opening credits).
Word of Wes' meltdown manages to reach Jordan McDeere at a dinner party being hosted in her honor which sends the media group into a frenzy. Mendell is fired, but during a meeting about the potential fallout, Jordan suggets that they rehire Matt Albie and Danny Tripp, former writers for the show as the producers.
Meanwhile, at the Screen Actors Guild awards, Matt and Danny are awaiting the Best Original Screeplay category, for which Matt is nominated. Matt wins the award and is pushed in the direction of the stage by Danny, but Danny is whisked away by his assistant during Matt's acceptance speech when word comes down that the network wants to see him and Matt. In a hotel room, Jordan asks Danny to take over the show for two years. When he declines her offer, she tells him that she knows about his drug test failure and that he won't be able to direct his next film for 18 months. She suggests that working on Studio 60 would be his best option, but he instead leaves in search of Matt, who was driven to the studio.
At Studio 60, Danny confesses that he failed his drug test to Matt and that Jordan McDeere knows about it. Matt takes off and bursts into the room where Jack Rudolph and several other executives are and berates him for attempting to blackmail Danny with knowledge of his drug test. Rudolph, of course, had no knowledge of this. Although their meeting with Rudolph goes terribly, Matt insists that they'll be taking the job after he talks to Danny.
- "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie: Matt and Danny take on the responsibility (and the pressure) of performing a weekly live network show.
- Matt and Harriet: Sometime shortly before this episode, Matt and Harriet had a relationship that they broke off due to him not supporting her when she promoted her album of spiritual songs on The 700 Club.
Behind the Scenes
- Early Release: This episode was made available on DVD via Netflix on August 5, 2006. It was also put online on AOL.com several days prior to the episode's broadcast.
- Vicodin Cocktail: Matt Albie, played by Matthew Perry, repeats throughout the episode that he is doped up on prescription painkillers after back surgery. In real life, Perry was forced to check into rehab in 2001 after a highly-publicized addiction to painkillers necessitated by his own surgery.
- Blow Dried: Director Danny Tripp tested positive for cocaine during a studio drug test. In real life, creator Aaron Sorkin was caught with cocaine in his backpack at an airport.
- Desperate Friends: Felicity Huffman appears to be old friends with Judd Hirsch's character. In real life, Felicity Huffman starred in Aaron Sorkin's old show, Sports Night.
Allusions and References
- Network: There are several references—particularly in the first two acts—to the film Network. When Wes goes off on his unscripted rant against television in general and the last-place network (NBS) in specific, director Cal argues with Standards & Practices as to whether he should cut the tape. In the news broadcasts later, several snippets of dialogue are overheard, and they make references to Network, Paddy Chayefsky and the line, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." (Note that one of the newscasters refers to it as a "classic 1977 film," which is an error.) The antagonistic, ambitious network exec Jack Rudolph fires Wes and wants to control the damage, but the new bright, capable, workaholic female network president, Jordan McDeere, suggests the network and the show use the outburst to their advantage and capitalize on it. Jack erroneously believes she is suggesting they give Wes his own show and says, "This is what happened in the damn movie." In the classic 1976 film Network, written by Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet (both of whom launched their careers in television—specifically the anthology series which gave the Golden Age of Television its name), fourth-place network UBS is about to fire its news anchor Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch. A week before his final broadcast, Beale announces, "I'm going to blow my brains out on this program a week from today." Network exec Frank Hackett, played by Robert Duvall, is furious and fires Beale, but Beale begs to be allowed to make an on-air apology. News director Max Schumacher (William Holden) consents, but when the network angers him, and Beale's apology begins by saying, "I just ran out of bullshit," Schumacher tells Hackett to "go fuck himself" and allows Hackett to continue his live, profanity-laden speech. Despite Hackett's ire, the new female head of programming Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) recognizes the ratings boost provided by Beale's outburst. She is even more energized when Beale—who is suffering a nervous breakdown and wearing his pajamas and a raincoat—bursts into the studio during an on-air broadcast and lists for the audience all the evils of the government and corporatization. In one of the most famous scenes in American cinematic history, Beale orders the TV audience to stand up and shout, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!" He repeats this mantra over and over, and as a result, Schumacher (who has since been fired by Hackett) sees people all across the city opening their windows and shouting this phrase into the air. As a result of this newfound popularity, Christensen takes control of the news broadcast and turns it into an entertainment show featuring rants by Beale, a psychic and other "infotainment" segments. Although intended as satire of the vapidity of television, many critics and observers have noted how prophetic the 1976 film has been—particularly in its portrayal of a network news division run by entertainment divisions (which has, in fact, been an increasing trend since the 1990s). On Studio 60, there is even a similarity between UBS and NBS' logos.
- Danny: That's nice, but I have no reason to trust you and every reason not to.
Danny: You work in television.
- Danny: Vancouver doesn't look like anything. Doesn't even look like Vancouver, it looks like Boston, California.
- Jack: There's gonna be a press conference at noon on Monday announcing that you two are running Studio 60. I know I can count on you to answer questions in a way that doesn't embarrass the National Broadcasting System. Would that be hard for you?
Matt: I wouldn't think it'd be hard for anybody, because if you pointed a camera at two people masturbating, it'd be among the least embarrassing things on the National Broadcasting System.