Sorkin series to take swipes at networks

NBC clinches `West Wing' writer's parody of behind the scenes at a late-night comedy

October 18, 2005|By SCOTT COLLINS | SCOTT COLLINS,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Writer Aaron Sorkin knows something about fighting with TV executives. Now he has decided to make a show about them - and has persuaded NBC to fork over big money for the idea.

Two years after leaving The West Wing, the long-running White House drama he created for NBC, Sorkin clinched a deal with the network for Studio 7, a behind-the-scenes sendup of a late-night comedy series very much like NBC's Saturday Night Live.

NBC, which beat out CBS for Studio 7 after a lively bidding war, will pay at least $1.6 million per one-hour episode and is aiming for the fall 2006 schedule, according to an executive familiar with the deal.

Warner Bros. Television, Sorkin's longtime studio home and the maker of The West Wing, will produce. Sorkin and frequent collaborator Thomas Schlamme are both aboard as executive producers, with shooting likely to start early next year.

"This project is a noisy, compelling combination of bold drama and laugh-out-loud comedy," said NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly. "We're thrilled to again partner with this team on their next great NBC show." Sorkin and Warner Bros. declined to comment.

The deal has Hollywood veterans chattering for several reasons, including the fact that it represents the first TV series Sorkin has sold since leaving The West Wing. Studio 7 also underscores an emerging trend of television executives buying "spec," or speculative, scripts, which are written before a network has agreed to back a project.

Typically, established writers will not spend much time working on a program idea until a network has committed to the project in some fashion. But ABC's Desperate Housewives and NBC's My Name Is Earl - both bought on spec - have persuaded executives to pay more attention to writers' pet projects, according to several agents and executives interviewed for this article.

Studio 7 promises to take more than a few swipes at network executives and programming, and viewers probably won't have much trouble figuring out real-life inspirations for characters and plot points. In many cases, it's NBC taking it on the chin.

In a copy of the pilot script obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the executive producer of the SNL-type show has an on-camera meltdown, saying on live television: "This show used to be cutting-edge political and social satire, but it's gotten lobotomized by a ... broadcast network hell-bent on doing nothing that might challenge their audience."

Later, the producer attacks the network for programming that involves "eating worms for money." That might be construed as a none-too-veiled reference to the gross-out stunts on NBC's reality show Fear Factor.

A respected playwright and screenwriter (his play A Few Good Men was turned into a hit movie with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson), Sorkin became one of the most talked-about figures in the industry during his days running The West Wing, which presents a fictionalized - some might say idealized - White House starring Martin Sheen as President Bartlet.

Scott Collins writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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