"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the new NBC drama set behind the scenes at a sketch comedy show that bears a more than passing resemblance to "Saturday Night Live," is this season's most-hyped new series. It is the show whose script has been floating around the Internet for months, the show that NBC ripped up its schedule to protect.
It's also Aaron Sorkin's Mary Sue story.
Mary Sue, a term coined in the '70s by "Star Trek" fan Paula Smith, applies to any fan-fiction character who is a blatant attempt by the author to insert her- or himself into the world of their favorite show, and usually in a way that has all the other characters going on about how wonderful she or he is. Your quintessential Mary Sue would save the Enterprise from sure destruction, then seduce Kirk and/or Spock.
Now, because Sorkin -- the creator of "The West Wing" and "Sports Night" -- is one of the half-dozen or so writers working in television who could be called a genius without hyperbole, it's a good Mary Sue story. But there's no getting around the fact that "Studio 60" is, essentially, Sorkin imagining what it would be like if he and directing partner Thomas Schlamme were brought in to rescue "Saturday Night Live," with several of their friends, former colleagues and ex-girlfriends brought along for the ride.
The average viewer may not know or care that Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford are playing mix-and-match versions of Sorkin and Schlamme, that Amanda Peet's network executive is modeled on former ABC president Jamie Tarses, or that Sarah Paulson's character is really Sorkin's ex, Kristin Chenoweth.
But Sorkin's unusually close relationship to the material is problematic whether you subscribe to Daily Variety or the Daily Worker. There's plenty of perfectly solid fan-fiction out there, as well as intensely personal mainstream drama, but the thing that's supposed to elevate mainstream fiction from the fan kind is a certain level of objectivity on the author's part, the ability to separate what works for the story from what they wish works for the story. Too often in "Studio 60," Sorkin chooses the latter.
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