Emmys Flashback: When Aaron Sorkin's 'SNL' Send-Up Earned Noms But Fizzled

Mitch Haddad/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
From left: Paulson with Masi Oka and Sorkin on the 'Studio 60' set in 2007.

'Studio 60' was canceled after a 22-episode run, despite major buzz and an initial bidding war between NBC and CBS.

Saturday Night Live, which could have its best year for Emmy nominations in decades — thanks to Donald Trump — was honored back in 2006 in a way few TV shows ever have been: Aaron Sorkin created a series about it. Still hot off his success with The West Wing, the writer-producer developed Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, an hourlong drama centered on the workings of a Los Angeles-based, SNL-like show.

From the beginning, Studio 60 had major buzz. There was a bidding war between NBC and CBS, with the Peacock winning by paying what was reportedly "a near-record license fee." A heavyweight cast was assembled that included Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford and Sarah Paulson. The show was shot on Warner Bros.' massive Stage 19, expensively retrofitted to look like an old two-story theater. The quality showed. The Hollywood Reporter said Studio 60 "lays claim to being the most exciting new show of the season." And NBC's then-president Jeff Zucker was quoted as saying he was so stoked about Studio 60, he was "thinking about the second and third seasons."

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The show was canceled after one 22-episode run. Reasons abound, but the deadliest torpedoes were a large price tag and low ratings. (The show tied at 61st place with The Bachelor: Rome and How I Met Your Mother.) Also, NBC's 30 Rock debuted the same year and covered the same turf, but in a comic vein. Adding to the problems was the ongoing complaint that the comedy sketches within the drama weren't funny enough.

"I think what's unusual about Studio 60 is that the people who don't like it are extremely vocal about it," said Sorkin in 2007, before the show was canceled. If it gave the writer-producer any satisfaction, the show did earn five Emmy nominations, with one win for John Goodman's guest appearance.

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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