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 V.15 No.45 | November 9 - 15, 2006 

Idiot Box

Numbers Game

“Studio 60” and “30 Rock” on NBC

If I were a television executive, I probably wouldn’t have programmed two series on the same network, both based on the behind-the-scenes antics of a faux “Saturday Night Live” sketch comedy show. And if I did, I probably wouldn’t have given them both similar numerical-based titles. I’d go so far as to say the guy who changed the oil this morning in my Toyota wouldn’t have made that programming decision. But somebody over on NBC did, adding both “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “30 Rock” to the fall schedule.

If you’d asked me over the summer which of these shows would be the smash hit, I’d have told you “Studio 60” was the sure bet. After all, the show is the brainchild of Aaron Sorkin, fresh off a seven-year run on “The West Wing.” It’s a clever mix of humor and drama, features some solid performers (Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford, D.L. Hughley, Timothy Busfield) and has plenty of that trademark Sorkin dialogue (witty, snappy and as fulfilling as a three-course meal).

But here we are a week or so into November and “Studio 60” is on the verge of cancellation. The show premiered with a solid 13.4 million viewers. By Oct. 23, viewership had fallen to a mere 7.7 million. NBC is denying cancellation rumors, mostly because the show pulls in an upscale audience (which advertisers like). Still, the network is clearly rethinking things. On Oct. 30, they tried substituting an episode of the similarly much-hyped/poor-performing Saturday Night Lights. It pulled in 8.3 million viewers.

Meanwhile, over on Wednesday nights, “30 Rock” is getting numbers in the 8 million range--not awful, but not enough to get it out of third place for the hour. Like “Studio 60,” “30 Rock” has a good cast, with creator Tina Fey delivering some amusing self-deprecating humor and Alec Baldwin (funny in just about anything he does these days) having a ball as a clueless network executive. Even more so than “Studio 60,” however, the show suffers from its premise. It’s supposed to be set in the writer’s room of a hit sketch comedy show (titled, unbelievably, “The Girlie Show”), but all the “humor” material that’s supposed to be on the show-within-a-show falls flat. “30 Rock” has tried to compensate by steering further and further away from its “on camera” talent (pushing Jane Krakowski, alleged star of “The Girlie Show,” to the far edges of the frame).

Now, NBC is talking about its first major schedule restructure. Starting Nov. 8, “30 Rock” will move to Thursdays to join the “Must See TV” lineup alongside “My Name is Earl” and “The Office.” “30 Rock”’s Wednesday night partner “Twenty Good Years” is going bye-bye for a while, and the network will start airing “specials” in that timeslot later this month. So, NBC, while you’re at it how about getting “Studio 60” away from the popular but totally dissimilar “Heroes?” The guy at the Jiffy Lube and I both think it’s a good idea.

 
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