Picture this – you are out shopping and your better half texts you to say ‘buy the DVD of that comedy series, you know the one set behind the scenes of the American comedy show’.
The teenager behind the desk at your local DVD store looks blankly back at you. ‘Do you mean Studio 60 or do you mean 30 Rock, dude?’ he asks. You ask him what the difference is between the two and he just shrugs his shoulders. Typical. He can give you a complete breakdown of every Chucky movie ever made and name every single Anthrax song ever recorded, but ask him something crucial and you get nothing.
So which one should you get? They’re both funny. It’s time for Studio 60 and 30 Rock to slug it out…
In the blue corner, we have (to give it its full title) Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip which ran for one solitary season 2006-2007 and was written by the mighty Aaron Sorkin.
In case you didn’t know, Sorkin was the brains behind The West Wing – one of the greatest ever dramas. He also wrote A Few Good Men. He’s got form.
Like The West Wing, Studio 60 is obscenely well written, gorgeously shot and directed. This isn’t just any old television show, this is M&S drama. Everyone in the cast are do damn witty and good-looking, you want to take them home and introduce them to your parents.
Sorkin plays a real blinder from the start with the casting of Bradley Whitford and Matthew ‘Friends’ Perry as show runners Danny Tripp and Matt Albie. Like a latter-day Butch and Sundance, they are the heart of the show and make it utterly compulsive viewing. You want these guys to win at any cost and you are rooting for them from the get-go.
The series ran for 22 episodes before being scrapped. There are some truly great episodes, but the tried and tested formula of characters juggling emotions and international problems, which Sorkin perfected in West Wing, soon gets shoe-horned into Studio 60.
Unfortunately the final story arc, which involves the brother of a major character being kidnapped by terrorists would have worked brilliantly in West Wing, whereas in Studio 60 it just feels contrived. But having said that, the on-off romance between Matt Albie and the rather lovely Harriet Hayes is superbly handled.
In the red corner, you have 30 Rock, which is written by the equally brilliant Tina Fey.
Like Studio 60, it is based behind the scenes of a weekly sketch show – like Saturday Night Live, but this is definitely the anarchic younger brother of Sorkin’s show.
For a start, every episode is shorter – only 25 mins and it didn’t get cancelled, so will be back for a second series. It’s as politically incorrect as American television ever gets and Alec Baldwin is just superb as boss-from-hell Jack Donaghy. If you thought Baldwin was only good at playing tough guys, think again. He is a comic god.
The ensemble cast is much smaller than Studio 60 and the characters are seriously larger than life. Boss Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) is the American answer to Bridget Jones, while Tracy Jordan is a crazier-than-crazy actor/singer/rap superstar.
Both shows pull in some amazing guest stars, with Studio 60 boasting appearances by Sting and Corinne Bailey Rae, among others. 30 Rock is just that little bit hipper, with Nathan Lane, L.L. Cool J and Wayne Brady.
Like West Wing, all the characters in Studio 60 are inspirational. You close your eyes and hope that these nice men and women really do work in television (they don’t). Whereas in 30 Rock, the flaws are there for all to see. It also has more laugh-out-loud moments than any US show since The Simpsons. You would want Danny Tripp to help you with your tax returns, but you would rather get drunk with the characters in 30 Rock.
So there you have it: Studio 60 is like a fine wine – smart and perfect for Choamsky-reading liberals. 30 Rock is a naughty boy, who doesn’t read The Guardian, drinks beer and never calls you. The choice is yours.