Aaron Sorkin's cable news network drama earns HBO pilot order

Image Credit: Jonathan Fickies/Bloomberg/Getty Images

HBO has taken a major step forward in launching a series by Aaron Sorkin that chronicles the backstage drama at a cable news network.

The pay cabler has officially given a pilot order to Sorkin’s project, which could mark the much-anticipated return of The Social Network scribe to the small screen. To prepare, Sorkin spent time on Keith Olbermann’s set while penning the behind-the-scenes script (think Sports Night meets Countdown), something he did while juggling The Social Network and working on an early draft of the upcoming film Moneyball (starring Brad Pitt).

If greenlit, the project would mark Sorkin’s return to the politically charged workplace drama series — subject matter that gave NBC one of its longest running hits with Sorkin’s The West Wing.

Clearly, HBO was waiting until after Tuesday’s Oscar nominations to confirm what has turned out to be the cabler’s worst-kept secret. (Sorkin has given several interviews about the project, including one with BBC News recently in which he talked about shadowing Chris Matthews and Fox News). Sorkin, who snagged an Oscar nomination for writing The Social Network, has already won a Golden Globe and scored a BAFTA nomination.

It’s likely that Sorkin will call upon his trusted allies to help carry out his vision on the HBO project. Emmy-winning scribes like Kevin Falls (Franklin & Bash) and Eli Attie (House M.D.) — both of whom worked on The West Wing – could help Sorkin run the show, while Thomas Schlamme would be a natural to direct. It’s also possible that Sorkin could call on Olbermann – now out of work – to contribute the occasional rant. Sure, there’s no money in it for the ex-MSNBC blowhard, but it would make a great credit at the end of the show, right?

Comments (102 total) Add your comment
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  • Steve

    Because “Studio 60″ turned out so well…

    • Tarc

      Studio 60 worked out fantastically… like the fella says: ya can’t fix stupid (audiences)!

      • Ana

        I agree! Studio 60 was an incredibly smart and funny show!

      • R

        Studio 60 got off to a decent start, but headed into free fall mode once the tone shifted and it became all about romance. That’s when it lost me.

      • Claire

        Studio 60 had to tie up all the loose ends quickly (including the romance) when they found out it was being cancelled. I’m sure they’d have been slow-burning stories otherwise, a la Josh and Donna. Sorkin is the master of such things.

    • poop

      Reminds me of another movie with the word Network in it.

    • J

      Maybe Olbermann left MSNBC to play a version of himself on this show. Who’s with me?

    • Tess

      Studio 60 was flawed, but it was smartly written and it had a lot of potential. It just never found a big enough audience to survive/too many TV viewers have no taste.

  • Ryan

    Studio 60 was damn good television. It didn’t work because your average audience doesn’t want drama about characters that aren’t stupid 90210 types. Kings wasnt Sorkin, but same problem. I may have to get HBO again now. Lets get Bradley Whitford for the lead shall we?

    • Kevin

      Amen brother! Studio 60 was brilliant cancelled way too prematurely.

      • Roger

        That show was a complete flop. Yes, he is a great writer but “Studio 60″ stunk.

      • Tarc

        Too bad you didn’t get it, Roger. Studio 60 was a great show – just way, way too smart for many Americans. And don’t defend them… they love total brain rot:Fox News, The Jersey Shore, and The Bachelor. *shudders*

      • Eric

        Have fans of Studio 60 always been this arrogant?

        Even Sorkin himself has acknowledged that Studio 60 was deeply flawed. He said that he was just looking for an opportunity to “get some things off his chest,” and he used the show as an outlet for that – knowing that it wasn’t going to make for great television.

        Most critics are in agreement that the show was a disappointment, and lots and lots of Sorkin fans – who loved The West Wing and Sports Night – gave Studio 60 lots of chances, but just didn’t like it.

        And the idea that it could have been a hit, if it had just been allowed to find an audience? That’s totally wrong. It got tons and tons of hype, and lots of people tuned in for the pilot. But the ratings got worse and worse, as more and more people that gave it a chance…gave up on it.

      • Amy

        Studio 60 was amazing work. It is truly a pity what happened with that show. Granted it isn’t the only show that happened with but when mindless stuff is what the masses what that is what networks do.

        Unfortunately

      • Cholie

        Studio 60 was amazing television, and was canceled entirely to soon. Everyone that’s commenting that the show was to smart for the American audience that Networks are aiming for is absolutely correct.

      • Erik

        Studio 60 was well written but was poorly sold. Sorkin wanted to make a show about Saturday Night Live, but you much of the content was heavy. I think a cable news network show was what he was probably trying to do four years ago and the audience will watch becuase they will expect heavier material. HBO is a good setting for his material.

      • Robert

        Studio 60 was a good show, it wasn’t great. It might have had a chance to grow into something more, but was overshadowed by Tina Fey and 30 Rock, and the network didn’t give it a chance. Hopefully Sorkin will be given at least two seasons to grow into what he wants with this project.

      • John from L.A.

        Sorry guys… I love Sorkin and have a genius I.Q. but “Studio 60″ stunk on ice. What people DON’T want to see are highly paid actors/actresses acting like spoiled children. I found myself unable to warm up to ANY of the character — except perhaps for D.L. Hughley’s character and the British girl brought in late.
        As an ex-standup comic I would watch my fellow comics berate an audience sometimes for “not getting the jokes” when it was in fact THEIR problem — the jokes weren’t funny. It’s the same here. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

      • Mike

        Everyone out of the way, stand-up comic with genius IQ coming through!

      • Rachel

        Just because we didn’t like Studio 60 doesn’t mean we didn’t get it. I was a big fan of The West Wing and Sports Night. I was really excited for Studio 60, but it just wasn’t any good. The characters (especially Matthew Perry) were unlikeable and joyless and the tone of the show was too intense for the subject matter, so everything just came off preachy. Maybe it got better, I don’t know, I quit watching about five episodes in. While there are some shows that fail because they are too clever or ahead of their time (Arrested Development), I don’t think Studio 60 qualifies as one of them.

    • Kara

      I love Studio 60. I don’t think it was given the support and chance it deserved and missed it very much. I’ve watched it on Hulu (don’t think it is still available) and Netflix many times. It was intelligent, well written tv with well developed characters. Bradley Whitford would be my choice!

    • Michelle

      I loved Studio 60 too. I thought it was a great show. I miss it. :(

    • Toby

      Studio 60 didn’t work b/c the audience didn’t care about what happens behind the scenes at SNL like they cared about what happens behind the scenes at the white house. This new show seems to be a mix of the two. Sorkin writing will alwys be amazing, it’s the overall concepts that have to be right.

    • Jessica

      Hooray for Aaron’s return to television. I agree, Studio 60 was terrific. I enjoyed it. Now that “The Good Guys” is kaputt, Brad will be free to follow Aaron into this new venture. Then again, maybe with some fresh blood this show would actually stand a chance?

  • Redvector

    People get enough of the real thing without HBO doing a tv show about it.

    • Erica

      That would be so awesome. But wouldn’t it be the Santos White House now? =)

  • ecuamerican

    One of Studio 60′s many faults was that it wanted to be political on a comedy show. This time, it will be in the right environment to be so (but hopefully not too much and have the right mix of drama and comedy).

  • Luddite

    Can the fake news show exist in the same world as the Bartlet White House (and allow the host to bring Josh, CJ, etc. on as guests)?

    • Kara

      If Only!

      • Sarah

        Please please please!! I would die of happiness!!

    • ecuamerican

      That just blew my mind…

    • lindkris

      From your lips to God’s Ears as they say….:)

    • TVLuke

      THAT would be the best thing ever. But it wouldn’t even be Santos White House, it would probably be post Santos. Who knows who is in the white house now… It would probably be good if it was a republican white house giving the news people more of an adversary.

  • Kevin

    I don’t care if you are on the right left or middle of the asile you have to admit Sorkin is an amazing writer. I’m excited to see this. And the fact that it’s going to be on HBO is great….

    • Brian Meeks

      Kevin,

      You are 100% correct. Sorkin’s genius is his ability to create compelling characters, who we love to pull for, who make us think. In the age of reality tv, it is hard for such great writing to get attention. I am hopeful that his show is a raging success.

  • aoyst

    Studio 60 got off to a good start but got bogged down in the muck when NBC wanted to turn it into a romance. That said, even without meddling from network execs, I’m not sure the show would have been sustainable. It treated its subject matter with too much reverence. It’s a sketch show, not the UN, the gravitas was getting forced

    • Sally

      Yes, exactly. It’s one thing to have a serious show when your topic is the White House and the running of the country. It’s quite another when you’re talking about a comedy sketch show. The tone just wasn’t right.

      • thejourneyto30

        See, this is the problem. Studio 60 wasn’t ‘a sketch show.’ It was a show about the people who work for ‘a sketch show.’

        It wasn’t 30 Rock. People wanted it to be something it wasn’t. It was a drama about people.

        I also think that the serialization of the show didn’t work as well in a weekly format. One show ends and the next picks up right were the last one left off. I think that turned people off. It’s beautiful if you can watch them all back to back, but week to week lead to some confusion.

        In my opinion, it is one of the best television shows that has ever been made. Incredibly intelligent. Wonderfully acted, directed, and written.

        Sorkin is by far one of the top three writers out there and I’m thrilled he’s (potentially) coming back to the medium of television. I’m even more thrilled that it’s with HBO, where he won’t be censored nor judged (as harshly) based on ratings.

        Can’t wait to see this.

      • Kevin

        I liked Studio 60 but could not stand when we had to watch the Sketches themselves. I remember constantly having to hear “Dolphin Girl” and it drove me nuts. But now Sorkin will be back in the area he was best at…

    • Jessica

      I agree. Though I loved Studio 60, having actors on a sketch comedy show try to deal with the serious issues that Aaron writes about just didn’t work. That’s why I think this new show will work out much better.

  • Don

    Didn’t this show used to be called SportsNight?

  • Dave

    Count me out. I can’t stand Sorkin. I watched Studio 60–every episode–wanting to like it. His dialog is stilted, his male characters come across as arrogant and two dimensional, and he doesn’t seem to know how to write for women.

    • Lori

      Why watch every episode if you didn’t like it?

      • Phoebe

        My thoughts exactly.

    • matt

      I didn’t like Studio 60 either but you obviously haven’t watched Sports Night because it has brilliant female characters and it’s just an amazing show all-around.

    • swestie

      Dave – you…are an idiot.

      • jared4ever

        Wow, what a clever and measured response. And you’re calling him an idiot? At least he has an opinion and can articulate it.

    • Jackson

      Sorkin doesn’t know how to write for women?

      Please see Felicity Huffman in Sports Night. The wonderful dichotomy of the powerful decisive business woman and the troubled indecisive girlfriend was amazing stuff. And it wasn’t all just her performance. It was totally written that way.

  • Giggity

    America won’t watch it, and we can already hear the whining about “stupid” audiences. Typical liberal reaction.

    • JB

      How’s that paranoid defensiveness working out for you? Typical conservative reaction.

  • Vates

    It “greenlighted,” not “greenlit”. Lit is for fire, lighted is for illumination.

    • Stano

      It “it’s”, not “it”. How do you downrate a post here?

  • mitch

    Olbermann rant right? No…wrong. He’s a jerk and should have been fired long ago.

    • jared4ever

      Let me guess, you prefer Bill O’Reilly, what a shock.

  • Jason

    And I think Studio60 failed because the show within the show was boring and unfunny. All the hubbub circling around something we didn’t believe in.

    In contrast, we did believe in Bartlet, so there the surrounding hubbub was compelling.

    I have hopes for the new show.

    • Tony

      I’m sorry, the catching Santa on “To Catch a Predator” sketch was hilarious. I still crack up thinking about that.

    • Tash

      Yes! I thought that was the problem actually – the few bits that showed the show-within-the-show is where it went dead, except when it was the “news” — that’s easy to do…. But hey – who mentioned West Wing and now makes me want to cry. Bring me the Bartlet White House!

  • Phil Henry

    Sorkin writes it I will be there. And please bring the great Bradley Whitford back.

  • Nikki Oldaker

    Amazing -I tried to get HBO or any studio to produce Samuel Tilden’s story about his amazing life and stolen Presidency –Discouraged by the rejection from the modern day producers– I invested and published 2 books about Tilden and the stolen by one electors vote 1876 election. The late 1800′s is history repeating itself in the 21st century –One would think after HBO John Adams mini series doing as well as it did HBO would produce the follow up with a new mini series. Instead HBO execs – give you Studio 60 –Every person that has read Samuel Tilden the Real 19th President has given the book great reviews To their credit – HBO skipped 100 year of American history and produced Boardwalk Empire –but I’m just a little gal and not the clout of Scorcese or Hanks — I thought Tilden as loved as he was by the American ppl would be famous enough…I was wrong–I need a big A list star to get this project to film. Anyone know any? LOL If so – point them to Samuel Tilden dot com

    • Jack James

      Wow…Bitter Much? So you get your pitch rejected and so now anything else that HBO produces is crap? Get over yourself! What a self centered, egotistical thing to say!! HBO producing a series by Sorkin has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU OR YOUR SELF PUBLISHED BOOK! Now while the subject of your books may have the ability to be interesting have you thought that maybe its not the subject but the writing that is holding your project back? Maybe thats why you had to self publish? Get off your high horse and come back down to Earth, ok?

    • Jackson

      I am willing to bet that after Bush V Gore 2000, that the American public may not *want* to sit through another story of presidential voting scandals. I think we all had enough of it in 2000, and I don’t think any of us want to see it again.

      Perhaps that is why HBO passed on it, because the topic is still too fresh in the American psyche.

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