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Disappointing TV: Gilmore Girls, Studio 60
December 3, 2006

And now, for a change of pace… television.

I regret having to say this, but I’ve stopped watching Gilmore Girls. The shows are badly written (especially compared to the high point of the modern medium they used to be), the characters have been flattened and sound wrong, and the whole beautiful combination has fractured into individual mini-shows, none of which I like: Lorelai’s conservative-dream reunion with her rich baby daddy. Luke’s long-lost geek daughter. Lane learns to be a married mommy. Rory and her two “aren’t we wacky” art school sudden best friends. Emily … well, I don’t remember seeing Emily since the stupid jail plotline. The only high point was Paris… no, not the city, the wonderfully tart character.

Where’s the townsfolk creating a community? Where’s the idea that women aren’t defined by their lovers? Where are the strong, literate, intelligent women I used to love spending time with? Gone with their creators, tossed off the show, that’s where. I’d been resisting catching up on the show after a busy week, and I finally told KC to delete the most recent two off the TiVo, because I didn’t care any more.

Bob Greenberger shares my woes in a nice analysis. He points out that the show’s message these days is that money solves everything, which makes Lorelai retroactively wrong from the beginning of Rory’s life. Comforting to those parents frightened by their teenage daughters who watch this show, perhaps, but not very reassuring to the rest of us.

My Favorite Year cover
My Favorite Year
Buy this DVD

Onwards. I’m still watching and enjoying Studio 60 (link no longer available), even though I’m guessing everyone else has given up on it, but I like the premise and the characters, especially Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Harriet Hayes.

I was a bit disturbed by one of the bits on the “B-12″ episode, though (especially for a show that’s previously raised questions about “borrowing”).

One of my favorite films is My Favorite Year. Those of you who know this terrific movie about an Errol Flynn-like movie star appearing on a Sid Caesar-like variety show in the 50s will remember the female lead’s inability to tell a joke. Benjy Stone, the young writer-to-be, tries to teach her a joke about a man walking into a psychiatrist’s office, but by the time she starts it, it’s become “a man walks into a doctor’s office wearing a duck.” (Which is pretty funny in itself, but not intentionally.)

If you watch Studio 60, this is sounding very familiar. That’s because the show used the same premise (woman, although professional female comedian (?), can’t tell joke), and after first using another joke, about a Jewish mother, they even start with the duck and the doctor’s office.

KC and I had an interesting discussion about this. Should it be considered plagiarism, or is it so obvious (at least to those who know the source material) that it’s an homage? Is it fair to borrow a premise from somewhere if you quote from it so much it’s recognizable but don’t attribute it?

14 Responses  
James Moar writes:  

There’s a Buffy episode (‘Restless’) which has Anya messing up the same joke.

I think a quote that’s intended to be recognised is likely fair enough, even without overt attribution (though that leaves questions of how large and close a quote is permissible), it’s borrowed material that you’re not supposed to spot that seems worse.

 
Ali Kokmen writes:  

Johanna:

Speaking of Studio 60 and Sarah Paulson’s character Harriet Hayes, of perhaps interest is today’s New York Times which has a profile of Kristin Chenoweth, who used to date Aaron Sorkin and on whom and whose experiences (promoting an album on the 700 Club; being disinvited from a Women of Faith conference for being pro-gay rights; an FHM pictorial, etc.) he based the Harriet Hayes’ character.

 
Greg McElhatton writes:  

I thought that Gilmore Girls’s slide actually began last year while the Sherman-Palladinos were still around (and that tossing them unfortunately didn’t fix things one way or the other), but other than that, I agree 100%–I gave up a couple of weeks ago as well.

 
Dan Coyle writes:  

If I were Kristin Chenoweth, I’d be beating the crap out of Sorkin right now, because Harriet is practically slander IMO.

 
John writes:  

I don’t recall My Favorite Year, so to me the joke throughout the episode seemed new, and amusing. An homage or tribute really should be immediately recognizable to most members of an audience, or that line has definitely been crossed. Also, that joke ran throughout the entire episode, AND helped to establish a character, so it became a part of the property, not just a tribute.

An example from my own life: I once added a Kenny of South Park doll to the background of one of my comic strips. The doll had nothing to do with the strip’s joke, and only mildly added to the depth of one of my characters. The strip could stand alone without the Kenny doll, but most of my audience recognized it, and chuckled that one of my characters would actually own such a thing.

Now, I did not credit South Park, but as I mentioned, the strip did not require it, and at the time, the character was immediately recognizable.

It is important to mention, however, that although I believe this does cross the line, it would be up to a judge to decide if it was intentionable. Many creators feel at one time or another that they have been ripped off. However, it is quite possible for more than one person to come up with the same great idea quite independently.

Also, the writer may have seen My Favorite Year, forgotten it, and the joke rested in their subconscious until it suddenly surfaced as a ‘great idea’.

Of course, if the writer is publicly known as a fan of the movie, well, that’s a boo boo. Some mention of the movie should then have been made.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

 
Johanna writes:  

I think it wasn’t just the joke, but using the whole idea for the scene and the characterization that made me think this crossed the line.

Ali: thanks, I’ll check it out.

 
Lyle writes:  

Thanks for that link, Ali. Sadly, Ms Chenoweth strikes me as much more interesting than Harriet Hayes — which is also how I feel about Jordan Deere and her inspiration Jamie Tarses.

 
Cole Moore Odell writes:  

I agree that the writing on GG has been spotty this season. But I strongly suspect that the ultimate point of the Lorelai/Christopher marriage is to show Lorelai that the two of them are not actually meant for one another, and definitively clear the decks for the romance fans think they want. The show is starting to make the point obvious:

[spoilers]

The most recent episode demonstrated that Christopher is an ill fit with the rest of Stars Hollow. (In an example of the “townsfolk creating a community” Stars Hollow gets together for a benefit knit-athon to raise money for repairs to a local bridge; Chris inadvertently ruins their fun by donating all the money needed to fix the bridge.) The plot seems to be slowly moving toward a reconciliation between Lor and Luke, with his parenting of April designed to mature him. Basically, ithink the show runners put the marriage in the November sweeps period in order to end it by the Feb. sweep and put Luke and Lorelai on track for the series finale.

Unfortunately, the two episodes you deleted are the ones that most closely match the tone of previous seasons, for pacing and dialogue. It’s actually awkward to see the characters almost get their old voices back–it only highlights the places where the writers wildly miss the mark.

While I agree that the show is diminished by defining the leads in terms of their men, the show pretty much crossed that bridge for good way back in season four.

 
Augie De Blieck Jr. writes:  

I’m with Cole – the first couple of shows this season worried me, but I think they’ve really found their voice in the episodes since. I think the show’s improved greatly for it.

And Lorelai’s reunion with Christopher has been anything but tension free. She’s stared scared into the camera more than once during this storyline. It’s on shaky ground.

 
Cole Moore Odell writes:  

Yeah, I think the elopement is an example of Lorelai over-correcting out of a skid, and I’m reasonably confident from the cues we’ve seen that the show knows it. If this season is the Philadelphia Story that Luke oh so symbolically caught on TV a couple of shows back, then I imagine Luke is Cary Grant and Christopher is the callow John Howard character.

The new Rory/Marty/Logan storyline makes for an odd mirror of the Lorelai/Luke/Christopher plot, which is obviously intentional–if somewhat dispiriting, per Johanna’s complaint about how the girls have reduced themselves. But at least it indicates to me that there’s a plan at work.

Finally, when has “money solves everything” not been the point of the show? While there are usually strings attached, the cash fairies have been looking out for the girls since the pilot episode. L&R have always played at disadvantage while eagerly tapping into the enormous wealth at their disposal (from family or the magic bank account of diner owner Luke Danes) whenever a need arises. I’m not sure I agree with Bob G. that Lorelai has learned all that much about learning to accept help; she’s always accepted it while denying its implications. It’s actually one of the recognizably human character flaws that has kept the show interesting for me.

 
Lilliandp writes:  

My high school did My Favorite Year as our annual musical when I was a senior. I played saxophone in the pit orchestra, and pretty much memorized the show, so the joke scene in Studio 60 struck me immediately as well. I didn’t initially think MFY was such a well-known production that the poach was intentional, but now I’m not so sure. Ironically, I found both scenes to be painfully un-funny. :-)

“Welcome to Brooklyn,” on the other hand, still gets hummed every time I think of meatloaf.

 
Bill Sherman writes:  

I’m still following Studio 60, too – even though every episode has at least one big moment that really tries my patience. (Not sure I accepted Ed Asner’s sudden abandonment of tough-nosed businessguy into anti-FCC windmill tilter in this week’s episode, for instance.) The cast’s the key: I’m really loving, for instance, guest-star Mark McKinney’s turn as the fried-out comedy writer . . .

 
New Mavis Issue » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] Harper. I like her. Even cooler was that the character is specifically based on her portrayal in My Favorite Year, one of my favorite movies. [...]

 
Nancy Drew » Comics Worth Reading writes:  

[...] making a modern teen movie, the creators opted for a culture clash subtext. Nancy goes from being Rory Gilmore, the most popular girl in her small town, to being a smart, accomplished, completely unpopular girl [...]

 
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