I don't watch much television. Much of the year we don't have cable -- we turn it on when the Lakers season starts, and turn it off when the season ends. If it weren't for the Lakers, we'd have no television at all.
-- which is not the same thing as saying I don't watch tv. I do – back in the day I watched NYPD Blue religiously until Bobby Simone died. A decade or so prior to that I watched Hill Street Blues religiously – saw every episode until the fifth or sixth season, after which I lost track of it. And let's not forget The Rockford Files, still the high point of all television anywhere since the dawn of time …
There have been other shows that have caught my attention over the years, if not quite the same degree of passion I invested in the Bochcho shows & Rockford. When I was young I watched James Garner's Maverick, before Rockford came around. I was a regular for The Wild Wild West, too, though I didn't come to that until it got into reruns. And Star Trek, of course, the original – when I was in my early twenties my sister Jodi and I used to go to Hakata Sushi on Wilshire and drink beer and watch, in order:
9 PM – Channel 9 – The Wild Wild West
10 PM – Channel 11 – The Rockford Files
11 PM – Channel 13 – Star Trek
Jim West, Jim Rockford, and Jim Kirk: we used to invite people to come drink with us for "Three Hours Of Jim," or "Jim, Jim, and Jim" …
My sister Jodi turned me on to Quantum Leap as well – a good show made great by its final episode. If you want to know what a Good Guy looks like to me, watch enough Quantum Leap to get a feel for the characters, and then watch that last episode. There are very few real heroes in television, but Sam Beckett is one, a man who does the right thing no matter what it costs him, and it costs him everything, at the end.
In the 90s I sold an episode to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – which was the best of the various Star Treks after the original show, which isn't as big a compliment as some people might think. I could write a long post about what was wrong with Star Trek, or I could observe that they whored that property out for every nickel they could squeeze out of it and move on to talk about what I was actually watching, which was Babylon 5, Joe Straczynski's show. Aside from occasionally clunky dialog B5 had great characters and great story arcs. I always like the aliens better than the humans – G'Kar and Londo were probably the two most fully realized people in the history of televised SF, funny accents and latex be damned. I rewatched Babylon 5 with my 3 sons recently – exactly their speed – and there's a season 2 episode, "The Coming of Shadows," which is tragedy, and art, of a high order. I can't think of anything comparable in any other SF television show, ever – even B5 never quite reached that peak again, though it came close multiple times.
Quite recently I ran across Firefly – Joss Whedon's show. I never watched it while it was on the air, but I took the boys to go see "Serenity," the movie based on Firefly, and the movie was so good we went back and rented the DVDs and watched those. It's a brilliant show – never quite hit the highlights of Babylon 5, but it was wittier, better acted, and better directed – and might have ended up superseding B5's accomplishments, had it survived. But it didn't and last I've heard there's no "Serenity" sequel in the works. And in the last few years, on DVD, we caught up with "24."
Covering all that in order it sure sounds like a lot of television – mind you, I'm covering 35 years in that listing. Possibly another way of looking at it is to list the shows I've never watched a complete episode of – The Cosby Show. Seinfeld. Friends. Frasier. Any version of Law & Order, any version of CSI. Northern Exposure. Homicide. The Sopranos. (The West Wing, for that matter.) And I could go on, but really, what I mean is, I probably haven't watched three hours of television a week over the last two decades, averaged out.
Right now we're doing the Ritual of Grieving for the latest Aaron Sorkin misfire. My wife and daughters and I were huge Sports Night fans. Sports Night ran two seasons and it was the funniest half hour sitcom I'd ever watched, and the most touching. Any real Sports Night fan can reel off lines of dialog from that show from memory – "You're wearing my shirt, Gordon." "Swallow, Jeremy." "And some days you just stand there, knee deep in pies." "I just want one good thing to happen before the day is over!"
Cancelled at the end of the second season. Sports Night was the first television show I absolutely had to watch pre-recorded, because I laughed so hard at it I'd lose huge chunks of dialog otherwise. "Swallow, Jeremy," made me laugh until I fell off the fucking bed.
We never watched West Wing. It came on while Sports Night and NYPD Blue were still on the air, and I didn't have time. And then it was too deep in and I didn't want to try and catch up. To this day haven't seen a whole episode end to end.
When we heard about Studio 60, Amy and the girls and I decided we'd take a run at that. We'd been watching 24 on DVD – so we figured that this year, on Monday night, we'd watch 24 at 9:00 on Fox, and Studio 60 at 10:00 on NBC.
It was a disaster and reminded me why I watch TV on DVD and not on cable. 24 was terrible. I don't mean bad, I mean deranged awful terrible to the point that I went back to the DVD to see if it was just trying to watch it week to week that made it so bad, or if the show had just gone completely off the rails the moment Amy and I decided to watch it live. Turns out it was the latter – the DVDs were still good. The show on Monday nights was still stinkin' bad.
But Studio 60 saved the night for us. It was Sports Night again, creative people with rough edges putting on a show under substantial pressure and tight deadlines. And about the 4th episode in, I said: "This show is doomed." It was brilliant, vain, sometimes shallow, not terribly interested in being accessible – appeared anti-religious and might have been – I'm sure religious people thought it was. The show is probably a close reflection of who Aaron Sorkin really is. I suspect I'd like Aaron Sorkin – I've hugely enjoyed both of the shows he's written about people like himself.
NBC put the show on hiatus after the 16th episode, "The 4 AM Miracle." They cancelled it while it was on hiatus and then started running the final episodes. The last 6 episodes are currently airing – and it looks like they're doing "24," sort of: the last 5 episodes appear to cover a single day in the lives of the cast and crew of "Studio 60."
A lot of people hated Studio 60 and are happy it's gone. I won't be, obviously. I'll be quoting lines from it at my wife and daughters for the next decade – Danny Tripp, after the accident with the robot baby and the guillotine: "Oh, my God, what have you done?" Harriet Hayes mocking a guest star who was supposed to be shot, but whose squibs didn't go off: "You looked like this!" and then shaking her body and laughing at the same time as she pretends to get shot. A dozen others – but finally, the one that's really going to stay with me.
It's the end of the third episode, I think. Everyone's terrified about the ratings – the first episode did well, and they're waiting on the overnights to see if the opening bump is sustained – and at the after party, they get the news: the ratings went up from the premier.
Everybody rejoices – jobs for the rest of the year, anyway! – and party away, everyone really, really happy …
Matt Albie, played by Matthew Perry, smiles at everyone and leaves the party, gets off in his car and drives away … as "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" plays over.
Nothing lasts. Life is loss, to paraphrase Rocky Balboa, and there are three more episodes of Studio 60 to enjoy before the lights go out.