Sunday Snippet: Wes Mendell (Aaron Sorkin)

This show used to be cutting edge political and social satire, but it’s gotten lobotomized by a candy-ass broadcast network hell-bent on doing nothing that might challenge their audience. We’re about to do a sketch that you’ve seen already about 500 times. Yeah, no one’s gonna confuse George Bush with George Plimpton. Yeah, we get it. We’re all being lobotomized by this country’s most influential industry that’s just throwing in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn’t include the courting of 12 year old boys.

And not even the smart 12 year olds. The stupid ones. The idiots. Which there are plenty, thanks in no small measure to this network, so why don’t you just change the channel? Turn off your TVs, do it right now, go ahead.

A struggle between art and commerce. Well, there’s always been a struggle between art and commerce. And now I’m telling you art is getting its ass kicked. And it’s making us mean, and it’s making us bitchy. It’s making us cheap punks. That’s not who we are! People are having contests to see how much they can be like Donald Trump?… We’re eating worms for money. Who wants to screw my sister? Guys are getting killed in a war that’s got theme music and a logo? That remote in your hand is a crack pipe. Oh yeah, every once in a while we pretend to be appalled.

Pornographers! It’s not even good pornography. They’re just this side of snuff films. And friends, that’s what’s next because that’s all that’s left. And the two things that make them scared gutless are the FCC and every psycho religious cult that gets positively horny at the very mention of a boycott. These are the people they’re afraid of – this prissy, feckless, off-the-charts, greed-filled whorehouse of a network.

Some of you might recognize that speech. It’s from the first scene of the first episode of the first (and only) season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The show, in case you’re not familiar, depicted the “behind the scenes” action of a weekly late night sketch comedy show in much the same ilk as Saturday Night Live. The impromptu speech was unexpectedly delivered by Wes Mendell, played by Judd Hirsch. He was the creator of the fictional Studio 60 program in the TV show and he only appeared in the pilot episode. After he was fired for that rant, he was effectively replaced by Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford).

In that speech, we are reminded of the never-ending battle between art and commerce. On the one hand, you have artists who seek to explore their art for its own sake (comedy in this case). On the other hand, the show has to be popular and it has to make money. The end result is that many of the shows on TV today are appealing to the lowest common denominator, because that’s how they can grow an audience. That’s how they can make money.

It’s almost ironic, then, that an “intelligent” show like Studio 60 got pulled off the air, yet Honey Boo Boo is doing just fine. If we continue down this path, the outlandish future depicted in Idiocracy doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. Did Aaron Sorkin go too far with this speech (and the one he used to “cold open” the pilot episode of The Newsroom)? Maybe. It’s clear enough that Sorkin may not be the nicest guy. He’s an elitist. He can be pompous, condescending and misogynistic too, but he’s also an absolute genius. You might remember his work from The Social Network three years ago too.

Frivolous and mindless programming can only continue if we continue to support it. Let’s not “dumb down” another generation of voters and citizens. Let’s not eat worms for money. Let’s be better.