What's more, Matthew Perry - who'd also appeared briefly on The West Wing - was riding high after Friends and looking to prove that he could tackle more dramatic material. With a cast and crew like that in place, what could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, quite a lot...
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Originally broadcast from September 18, 2006 to June 28, 2007
Studio 60 saw dynamic duo Whitford and Perry play, respectively, troubled TV producer Danny Tripp and smart-alec comedy writer Matt Albie. The show's lead characters reflected not only the personalities of the actors inhabiting them but also aspects of Aaron Sorkin's own persona - it's hard to watch scenes relating to Danny's cocaine habit without being reminded of Sorkin's own much-publicised addictions. Ditto Matt Albie's pill-popping and Matthew Perry's own rehab stints.
This writer was so excited at the prospect of a TV show starring Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry as two bantering buds that he'd already labelled Studio 60 'The Josh and Chandler Show' long before it was given an official title. And the two stars didn't disappoint - the relationship (or 'bromance' if you must) between Tripp and Albie is central to Studio 60 and it was absolutely enthralling to watch unfold.
Another key relationship in Studio 60 was the on / off romance between Matt and his muse Harriet Hayes (Sarah Paulson). Again, Sorkin apparently took inspiration from his own life experiences, at least loosely basing this on-screen affair on his real-life experience with ex-girlfriend - and West Wing actress - Kristin Chenoweth.
As the opinionated yet gentle Harriet, Deadwood's Paulson was more than a match for Matthew Perry. Aaron Sorkin's gift for writing fast-paced, witty exchanges - particularly between members of the opposite sex - is legendary and Studio 60 boasted some of his best work in that arena. We'd even go so far as to say that the Matt / Harriet pairing is Matthew Perry's greatest TV male / female partnership - yep, better even than Chandler / Monica.
A solid supporting cast bolstered the main players, and while it's rude to pick favourites, this writer always had a particular affection for sharp-tongued, sharp-witted network chairman Jack Rudolph, played by one of US TV's great unsung character actors Steven Weber.
So with all this and more going for it, what exactly went wrong with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? The show was axed by NBC following a single season, following 22 episodes with less-than-stellar ratings. Granted, NBC taking the show off the air for three months between February and May 2007 probably didn't help matters, but the very reason the network did that was because the rot had already set in...
It'd be easy to argue that familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe after seven seasons of The West Wing - four seasons of which Aaron Sorkin was directly involved with, and the final three of which still very much bear his stylistic stamp - the TV-watching public was simply bored? We know that Aaron loves to revisit familiar themes, character types... heck, even whole chunks of dialogue...
But that argument doesn't really hold much weight - 2010 Facebook biopic The Social Network was as 'Sorkin-esque' as you can get and went on to scoop a string of Oscar nominations, so people clearly aren't tired of Sorkin yet.
Part of the problem probably does lie with the huge success of The West Wing though. Having to follow such a mammoth hit, Sorkin and Studio 60 were crushed a little under the weight of expectation. The same problem has hit his latest effort, HBO drama The Newsroom, which many TV critics seem to loathe for all the same reasons they loved The West Wing - impassioned speeches, a certain loftiness, a sense of moral superiority...
Still, it's impossible to deny that part of the fault lies in Studio 60's own creative downfall. When the show was good, it was very, very good - if we didn't think so, we wouldn't have placed it under the Tube Talk Gold banner. But the show did lose its way a little in the latter half of its run, as Sorkin shifted focus more and more from showbiz to politics, presumably in an attempt to recapture a little of that West Wing magic...
But it was an awkward transition; the imposition of real-world political issues - such as the war in Afghanistan - onto the glitzy showbiz world that Sorkin had created felt incredibly forced. Witness the painfully heavy-handed moment in which TV star Tom Jeter (Nate Corddry) is criticised by his father for indulging in a well-to-do lifestyle while his "little brother is standing in the middle of Afghanistan".
Studio 60 was struggling before the tonal shift, but if Sorkin had a little more faith in the show he had created and stuck to his guns, maybe NBC would've shown a little faith too and picked the show up for a second season. As it was, the reinvention turned off more viewers than it attracted and Matt, Danny and co. were bundled off into television retirement.
It's another sign of how terrific Studio 60 could be though that the series bowed out with a fantastic final episode, in which Matt and Harriet finally get their happy ending and Danny prepares to start a new life with TV exec Jordan (the brilliant Amanda Peet). It's appropriate that the series finale - 'What Kind of Day Has It Been' - shared its title with the first season finales of both of Sorkin's two critically-acclaimed previous series, The West Wing and Sports Night, as it showcased the scribe at his very best.
Looking back over five years since the show ended, it's clear that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is not perfect. But what it is is grossly underrated. Far too often harshly judged in comparison to The West Wing, the show is - for the most part - stylishly directed, solidly written and entertainingly performed. It left our screens before its time and certainly deserved a fairer shot than it got.
Are you a Studio 60 fan? Do you think the show deserved a season two? Sound off below!