By David Shaw

At a production cost of over $2.5 million per episode, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip has become an expensive albatross around the neck of NBC. The Aaron Sorkin-penned drama has struggled to maintain its audience after a debut to 13 million viewers. With a 5.1 rating capturing 7.7 million viewers for its most recent airing, the show is entering perilous ground.

Studio 60 has two saving graces: the considerable investment NBC has put in to the show and its stature among NBC’s other new dramas of the season. After West Wing commercial success and Sports Night critical success, Aaron Sorkin was able to call his own shots for the next project he wrote for. Studio 60, that project, paired Sorkin with an expensive cast fit for the writing that has been the trademark of Sorkin’s work. Amanda Peet, Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, D.L. Hughly, Nate Corddry and others don’t come cheap.

While that considerable cost has made the show a target for concern, it will also make it tough to pull the plug on such a promising experiment. Perhaps if the dialogue fell flat and the performances looked forced, the cost of the show would seem more an issue. Instead, the show is expertly written, well produced and convincingly delivered. With that comes the Arrested Development-style reluctance to pull the plug even when viewership has lagged. NBC has reportedly promised Sorkin at least a 13-episode run, so with six episodes down, that leaves a seven week run to convince NBC of all of these elements finally combining into escalated viewership.

Saving grace number two has been the spectacular failures (at least to this point) of two other new NBC dramas this season. Kidnapped, touted as the next great serial drama instead has been banished to Saturday evenings to burn off episodes before its inevitable cancellation. The show also carries the nice distinction of being replaced by Dateline, hardly a harbinger of success.

Add to that failure the struggles of Friday Night Lights and suddenly Studio 60 doesn’t seem to be the chief concern at NBC. The high school football drama landed a 4.0 rating for its most recent viewing, low even in comparison to Studio 60’s already low numbers. Friday Night Lights will get a viewing in Studio 60’s time slot this week, presumably to see just how well Heroes, one of NBC’s successes this season, can complement the show.

All of that analysis aside, Studio 60 deserves a chance. In a programming schedule this year awash with reality rehashes and cheap-to-produce game shows, Studio 60 is a change of pace that is needed to balance the programming season. Sorkin is of course the key and his writing gives the show and life and a vibrancy that demands attention.

The star-studded cast in this case is not just standing around, waiting for paychecks and half-heartedly going through the motions. This cast has brought a delivery to those Sorkin lines that recalls the crispness of both the West Wing and any of the major Hollywood movies the cast may have been a part of most recently.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a gem, deserving of an audience that one can only hope is out there, an audience ready to embrace polished writing and expert acting. If it’s not, while that may mean more face time for Greg Probst, it bodes ill for the chances networks will take on engaging dramas and compelling storytelling.

David Shaw is a writer for the Blogger News Network and can be reached at Studio 60 fans welcome.

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