Welcome back to television, Aaron Sorkin--we've missed you! It's been a lonely three years without you, watching The West Wing teeter and topple (and then right itself, a little, towards the end). I've got quite a few things to say about your new show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip--most of them, just to be clear, quite complementary. But I'm going to hold off on any serious discussion for a while, let the show find its voice before I start taking it apart to see what makes it tick. Right now, however, I have one teeny-tiny complaint.
We all laughed, some of us less comfortably than others, at the LemonLyman.com subplot on The West Wing a few years back. Sure, you were sticking it to your fans for being so uppity as to have an opinion about your work, but you had the presence of mind to latch on to the caricature of the bossy, tyrannical forum moderator--a stereotype rooted in an all-too painful reality, which most internet users had probably encountered and lampooned themselves long before you thought to do so. Plus, only a cold, black heart could fail to find humor in the sight of C.J. Cregg threatening to shove a motherboard "so far up [Josh Lyman's] ass!" So you got a pass from internet fandom for that one.
Which might have inspired you to go back to that well in "The Cold Open," Studio 60's second and most recent episode, in a scene in which comedians Simon and Tom belittle a blogger for criticizing their show (or, more precisely, for having nothing better to do than blog critically about their show). And I'm sorry, but this time around the joke isn't quite so funny.
For future reference, here's how the world works:
You can make the premise of your show the argument that television should be taken seriously as an artform by the people who make and distribute it, or you can deride the people who do take it seriously enough to criticize it. You can't do both.
You can extol the value of professionalism, as exemplified in this instance by the credential system, or you can make the week's villain an evangelical magazine with a high circulation and then boggle at the notion that said magazine might get a credential to a major network press conference. You can't do both.
You can harangue television in a five-minute speech that has had the internet abuzz since June, calling for a commitment to quality and integrity, or you can have a blogger express the same thoughts only to be called a loser. You can't do both.
But most importantly, you can call bloggers and internet fans hacks and ridicule the notion that they have anything of meaning to contribute to the conversation, or you can have your characters decide that their cutting-edge, high-concept, razzle-dazzle-knock-'em-on-their ass cold open is going to be a Gilbert & Sullivan filk.
You can't do both.