Wes Mendel is having a rotten evening. He's the executive producer of a late-night sketch comedy show called Studio 60. Just like Saturday Night Live! After a controversial sketch gets cut by network Standards and Practices, Wes crashes the opening segment to deliver a scathing dressing-down of television in general, and of Fear Factor and The Apprentice in particular. Just like in Network! We actually know it's stolen from Network because all the characters say "Network" and "Paddy Chayefsky" about a billion times before the hour's over. Jordan McDeere is having stressful evening. It's her first day as president of the "NBS" network (just like NBC!), she's got to deal with the shitstorm Wes just kicked up, and the chairman of the network, Jack Rudolph, is breathing fire down her neck. Fortunately, she's got a bright idea to bring back the show's old writer/director team to capitalize on all this free publicity and bring the show back to prominence. Matt Albie and Danny Tripp, said writer/director team, are having pretty good evening, all things considered. Matt's just won a Writer's Guild award for some hotshot movie they made, and they're already gearing up to shoot another one. Unfortunately, Danny's just flunked a drug test and can't get bonded to shoot in Mexico. Through an awfully convenient coincidence, Jordan knows this -- even though Danny hasn't even told Matt yet -- and uses the info to convince Danny to convince Matt that they should take up the reins of the show, while she convinces Jack that it's not actually an awful idea to hire back two guys you fired four years ago. Basically, Jordan does a lot of convincing in one night and ends up with her new job riding on a cokehead and a pill popper. Just like Aaron Sorkin! Sort of! Oh yeah, Matt spends the whole episode looped on Vicodin. But he's not mean like House. Except he is a little, toward his ex-girlfriend Harriet Hayes, who's a Studio 60 senior cast member and also a Christian entertainer. Just like Amy Poehler! Er, not quite. But it's Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme! And Bradley Whitford and another character named "Danny"! And they're here to save us from bad TV! Seriously, they pretty much say so.
We open on an exterior of two buildings and a street sign. The taller building houses the offices of the NBS television network. The shorter, more prominent building, with spotlights canvassing its faÃ§ade, has a giant marquee that reads "Studio 60." The street sign reads "Sunset." I think we can safely say that we didn't TiVo the wrong show. Inside, D.L. Hughley is warming up the studio audience, asking them how long they've been watching Studo 60, which is now in its twentieth year. As we continue to listen to D.L. -- whose character's name is Simon Stiles, so let's just call him that -- we're taken on the first of many Tommy! Schlamme! tracking shots through the backstage area of the studio. It's a building and a show, see. Simon continues to warm up the audience, all the while keeping an eye on an argument unfolding in a subway car set, off to the side. He explains to the audience how the show starts with the cold open, then the VTR, or main titles, and then our announcer Don Pardon't will announce "Live, from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it's Friday night in Hollywood!" Which made me think this show-within-the-show was called Friday Night in Hollywood, but we'll soon learn that's not the case. "Felicity Huffman is here tonight!" says Simon. Three 6 Mafia, as well. A production assistant, who looks a lot like Chloe O'Brien, passes by, and Simon, off-mic, tells her to tell the arguing pair in the subway car that the audience can hear them.
We cut to said subway car, where PA Chloe tries to tell the two arguing, besuited gentlemen to keep it down, but she doesn't get a chance, because the older besuited man -- Wes Mendel, played by Judd Hirsch -- wants her to get a "Jack Rudolph" on the phone. "Jerry," the younger besuited man -- who looks like an investment banker shoved up Marshall Flinkman's ass -- tells Wes that Jack is at a dinner party. Jack is the "chairman of NBS," and Wes wants to talk to him because the network is demanding a sketch be cut from the show. We're getting the sense here that Wes is in charge of Studio 60, but the network is very much in charge of Wes. "This sketch is funny," says Wes, "and funny is in short supply around here lately." Jerry tells Wes that he's in charge of Broadcast Standards and Practices, and the sketch is going to offend people, and that's why it's being cut. What people? "Religious people," says Jerry. "What do you want me to say to the fifty million people who are gonna go out of their minds as soon as this airs?" Wes tells Jerry that the show only pulls about nine million households, so forty-one million of those complaints will be full of crap. Wes also says that having free speech means sometimes getting offended when other people use it. This argument isn't getting anywhere with Jerry, who suggests replacing The Offending Sketch with something called "Peripheral Vision Man," which Wes says is not, and never has been, funny. Jerry isn't exactly disagreeing, but his job isn't to care about "funny." Wes tries a different tack. He tells PA Chloe -- whose name is "Suzanne" -- that he wants to talk to Jordan McDeere. Jerry says he can't do that -- she's at a dinner party, too. The same dinner party. It's a dinner party for Jordan McDeere. Wes asks what happens if he decides to run the sketch anyway. Jerry won't even answer that, because "if [Wes] still had the muscle to do it, [he] wouldn't have asked." Wes falls silent, because he knows it's true. Suzanne looks away from Wes, knowing that it's true too. He tells Suzanne to tell the control room they're "cutting 4A" and replacing it with Peripheral Vision Man. Suzanne and Jerry both leave a broken and defeated Wes in the subway car.