;If you don't already know;about the 30 Rock/Studio 60 double-whammy situation, let me summarize: Two totally separate TV series premiered on NBC this fall, each of which focuses on the behind-the-scenes antics at a late-night show like Saturday Night Live. 30 Rock is a 30-minute sitcom created by Tina Fey, the former head writer and former "Weekend Update" co-anchor on the real SNL. Studio 60, meanwhile, is a 60-minute comedy-drama from Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing.

;;I'm not going to dwell on this coincidence other than to grant that it may be one. After all, if there can be two Truman Capote movies (Capote and Infamous) and two versions of The Office (British and American), why not 30 Rock and Studio 60?

;;Let's not forget, after all, that we are living in a postmodern (or perhaps even post-postmodern) era in which a suitable subject for a television show is likely to be another television show. Besides, SNL, now in its 32nd season, was long overdue for this sort of treatment: Your Show of Shows, the SNL of its day, was given the same behind-the-scenes goosing by The Dick Van Dyke Show only 11 years after it started. Which was a long time ago, but practically every TV writer I've ever met claims to have been inspired by the characters on The Dick Van Dyke Show. So it's more likely that Fey and Sorkin are both copying Rob and Buddy and Sally than each other.

;;So let's deal with 30 Rock first, since it's the simpler show. It's about Liz Lemon (Fey), head writer on The Girlie Show — and a smart and highly principled person. In the first episode, when a man cuts in front of her in a hot dog vendor's line, she buys all the hot dogs so the man can't have any. One day, Liz finds that Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), a network big cheese, has been brought in to revamp her program. Jack made his name within the company — called NBC, like the real one — by developing an oven that cooks with three kinds of heat.


;;Jack's idea for The Girlie Show is to hire Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), a flaky but popular movie star; Jack thinks Tracy will bring a "third kind of heat" to the show. The odd thing about 30 Rock is that Jack, although arrogant and manipulative, may not exactly be wrong. Jordan does bring a hard-to-deny vitality to The Girlie Show and is even considered brilliant by some of its writers.

;;Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (the full name of Sorkin's program) is a complicated proposition. At twice the length of 30 Rock, it's like two shows in one. One show is a more serious version of 30 Rock: Network president Jordan McDeere (Amanda Peet) must stand up to network chairman Jack (another Jack!) Rudolph (Steven Weber) to protect the integrity and intelligence of their network (the fictitious NBS) and, especially, its SNL-like show. McDeere's occasional allies in this effort are Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) and Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford), the executive producers that she brought in over Jack's vehement objection, after the show's previous honcho (Judd Hirsch) had a Network-style meltdown on live TV.

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; 30 ROCK ;
; 8 p.m. Wednesday, NBC ;

; 10 p.m. Monday, NBC ;

;In an especially effective sequence, Jordan refuses to bid on a sleazy reality show (again, over Jack's objection). When Danny hears about this, he's so impressed that he decides to use his street cred as a well-regarded creative type to help her lure a gifted writer to NBS.


;The other show within Studio 60 is a love story involving Matt and Harriet (Sarah Paulson), a talented performer on the variety show (also called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). Matt, who is Jewish, broke off their relationship after Harriet, a devout Christian, appeared on The 700 Club. Still very much in love, Matt and Harriet are divided by principle.

;;Both parts of Studio 60 are really about the same thing, and it's the same thing that Sorkin's The West Wing was about — the soul of America. Jordan is obviously fighting for that soul when she rejects schlock and supports Matt and Danny. Meanwhile, Matt and Harriet's relationship is a metaphor. Matt is Mr. Blue State. Harriet is Ms. Red State. Sorkin is saying that the Red and the Blue desperately need each other and must learn to live together — and have the metaphorical equivalent of sex with one another.

;;Studio 60 is more compelling when it sticks to Jordan's struggle with Jack over personnel and programming. The thing about Matt and Harriet's relationship is that it isn't only a metaphor; it's a genuine romance that raises such inconvenient issues as: Is it appropriate for a boss and his employee to be sexually involved? Do their show-business lives put unusual stresses on their relationship? And are there sound reasons that people of such different backgrounds ought not to become seriously involved?


;Sorkin is so focused on his metaphor that he tries to brush these issues away. But they don't want to go quietly.


;30 Rock and Studio 60 are both smart, funny series. 30 Rock is a little funnier (thanks largely to Baldwin) and Studio 60 is little smarter, but they're both worth watching. The big question is: Will that even continue to be possible? So far, the ratings have not been good.


;If either show is holding back a "third kind of heat," now is the time to get cookin'.

; arts@orlandoweekly.com

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