I’M A HUGE FAN of Aaron Sorkin. I admire the arc of his career as much as his snappy dialogue and easy intelligence. He wrote the play A Few Good Men, and thus the iconic lines uttered by Jack Nicholson in the subsequent film. From there, he moved to television, first with the breezy Sports Night, and then to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a show my wife and I watched religiously when it was on, which we almost never do. Only when it was abruptly canceled did we back into Sorkin’s signature work, The West Wing, arguably the best drama network TV has ever produced. We watched all seven seasons on DVD when our daughter was a baby. When we were done, we went back to the beginning and watched them all again. I calculated that two out of every three nights in the first year of my daughter’s life were spent watching The West Wing. We once hired a babysitter to rock her in a chair so we could watch two episodes uninterrupted. Episodes we’d already seen before. I’m a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin.
To the question, “Do you watch The Newsroom?”, the answer remains a resounding “Yes.” Although, let’s be honest, it ain’t The West Wing. Nor is it The Social Network, the excellent film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for which script Sorkin won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. But Jeff Daniels is so damned good, Allison Janney good, at effortlessly reciting the Sorkinian monologues, that we cannot not watch.
That said, when The New Yorker‘s Ian Crouch revealed that Sorkin came to HBO two years ago with six fully-formed shows to choose from—”You can have whichever one you like,” Sorkin told the suits. “Take your pick”—I was intensely curious about the five might-have-been TV shows that were passed on. As it happens, I know a guy at HBO, who leaked me an internal company memo that circulated back then, which included synopses of these lost shows. Here are the five, a Weeklings exclusive:
After finishing dead last for the fourth year in a row on standardized testing, a school in rural North Dakota decides to bring in a new principal—a city slicker from New York named Sam Sehorn (Matthew Perry). Sehorn overhauls the staff, hiring a new history teacher (Felicity Hoffman), a new English teacher (Jeff Daniels), a new science teacher (Dulé Hill), and a new math teacher (Olivia Munn) who is way too attractive to be a math teacher 90 miles from Fargo but who agrees because she’s secretly a big nerd—and also because she’s Sehorn’s ex-girlfriend. With Kristin Chenoweth as the Bible-thumping school board president and Nate Corddry as the rube who improbably winds up dating the hot math teacher.
When the longtime host of “Game Show” (Ed Hirsch) is abruptly fired for going Howard Beale on the stupidity of the contestants after one of them fails to correctly phrase the answer in the form of a question, the network president (Sam Waterston) taps ratings-obsessed workaholic Makaila McKrystal (Amanda Peet) to produce the show. She hires recovering alcoholic, Born Again Christian, and former “Game Show” host Giles Gates (Rob Lowe)—who is also her ex-boyfriend with whom she hasn’t had an actual conversation since they broke up six years ago under unusual circumstances—as the new host. With a staff that includes a vaguely cute intern who is prone to bumbling mistakes (Alison Pill) and a vaguely cute geek who writes the questions (Dev Patel), they nobly vow to make “Game Show” the only quiz show on network TV that does not insult the intelligence of its audience.
“The Credit Union”
After the monolothic Syndicate Bank either acquires or destroys its privately-held rivals in a town in Maryland, an idealistic financier (Bradley Whitford) joins forces with an opportunistic heiress (Sarah Paulson) to bring honest, George Bailey-style banking to the town by starting the People’s Credit Union. Did we mention that the two of them were married for ten years, and have been divorced for five? They hire a rag-tag team of inexperienced-but-idealistic tellers (John Gallagher Jr., Janel Moloney, Chris Chalk), who begin to find curious illegalities in the way Syndicate Bank does things. With Tim Matheson—the financier’s old boss and mentor—as the Syndicate Bank president determined to destroy the new credit union…and bed the heiress.
“Driver on the Beltway”
A rumpled, disheveled bleeding-heart liberal (Richard Schiff) is, despite his profound intelligence and knack for public policy, the lowly limo driver for the Senate Minority Leader, the deranged and hateful Tea Party Republican Marla McCann (Allison Janney) and her equally deranged and hateful chief of staff (Peter Krause). The show consists mostly of Schiff and Janney debating a wide range of political, social, and economic issues in the way we all wish presidential candidates would do, as they drive to various functions in the District. Featuring sporadic cameos by the president (Robert Guillaume), the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Martin Sheen), the Speaker of the House (Elisabeth Moss), the British Ambassador to the U.S. (Emily Mortimer), and Sting (Sting).
“The Left Wing”
Forty-two minutes of Aaron Sorkin riffing on the Tea Party, women’s rights, gay rights, voting rights, Obamacare, drone missiles, arcane Congressional protocol, the perils of social networking, forgotten blacklisted writers, musical theater trivia, how SNL isn’t funny anymore, and why Republicans are stupid. Each episode ends with an alumnus from Sorkin’s alma mater, the Drama Dept. at Syracuse University, belting out an obscure show tune.
Memo to HBO: I would watch any of these shows.