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''Studio 60'': Do Not Adjust Your Set

By RD Heldenfels Published: May 30, 2006

Among the recurring complaints I get about television, one is that some TV shows just look too dark -- that it's difficult to figure out who's there and what's going on because the artists making TV shows love shadow and muted light far more than viewers do. They're making shows for people who watch TV theater-fashion, while many viewers still prefer to have a light on.

If the pilot is any indication, you might be better off dimming the lights for ''Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,'' the drama set behind the scenes at a live TV variety show.

It has an impressive cast, it has a significant pedigree (Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme of ''The West Wing''), it will have people wondering which real-life performers and executives were the basis for the fictional ones here, and it will spark a lot of talk about how close the Sorkin-Schlamme relationship is to the one here between Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.

I did not like it anywhere near as much as I did the other behind-the-scenes show on NBC's schedule, ''30 Rock,'' which I wrote about in my last post. In fact, during ''Studio 60,'' I kept saying to myself, ''Hey, I had a lot of problems with 'The West Wing' when it started, too.''  But ''West Wing'' at least had that Bartlet scene at the end -- the one where he dismantles some right-wing evangelicals -- that said, there's stuff going on here. ''Studio 60'' also takes on conservative Christians, though not as artfully as ''West Wing,'' and ...

Well, at this point I need to remind myself that this is not a review. (See my previous post for why.) So I'll get back to the topic at hand, which is that ''Studio 60'' is really dark. Not in the cynical sense. In the sense of, it's often hard to see what on earth is going on onscreen.

As I've said, some TV shows like going dark because it feels artsy and theatrical. ''Studio 60'' is also harking back to the movie ''Network,'' both in a scene done in explicit  homage to the movie (which proves that homage is not always successful -- but TINAR) and in a look that recalls ''Network's'' visual style, which also embraced the darkness of its compressed little world of control booths and conference rooms.

Now, the fall is a long way off, and NBC and ''Studio 60'' could decide to lighten this thing up in all sorts of ways. Let's hope so. Since the show's fictional network resembles NBC, maybe its corporate owner could send over a few boxes of light bulbs.

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