Aaron Sorkin, the acclaimed wordsmith behind “The West Wing” and the upcoming “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” was left wishing Friday he could reclaim one public remark.
“I do think television is a terribly influential part of this country and when things that are very mean-spirited and voyeuristic go on TV, I think it’s bad crack in the schoolyard,” Sorkin told a meeting of the Television Critics Association.
He paused briefly, then asked: “Why did I use that word?”
In 2001, Sorkin was arrested at a Southern California airport and charged with possession of cocaine, mushrooms and marijuana. He entered a drug treatment program after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and two felony counts.
Later in the news conference, a rueful Sorkin jokingly said he would pay $100 to avoid seeing his comment in the media. There were as many as 200 reporters in the room.
His slip set off a running gag during the news conference to promote the NBC series set behind the scenes of a “Saturday Night Live”-like program. The ensemble cast includes Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford and Steven Weber.
After one reporter commented that the characters played by Perry and Whitford seemed akin to series executive producers and friends Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme, the actors were asked what it was like playing their bosses.
“I think it’s mostly like bad Vicodin in the schoolyard,” responded a deadpan Perry.
The former “Friends” star underwent treatment in 1997 for what his publicist called at the time the “early stages of chemical dependency” and which People magazine reported was a Vicodin addiction caused by pain from an accident and dental problems.
Whitford (“The West Wing”) had a quick response to Perry’s quip.
“I’ve never wished I had had a drug problem,” Whitford said.
Weber was not be left out.
“It’s like Excedrin and old cloth diapers in the playground,” he said in response to another question.
NBC must hope critics find the series as entertaining as the critics’ session. It’s the network’s most high-profile new series and a key part of its potential ratings salvation: NBC finished in fourth place among viewers last season.
The network also is risking redundancy: “30 Rock,” a half-comedy from Tina Fey (“Saturday Night Live”) about a late-night variety show, also is on NBC’s fall schedule. It debuts 8:30 p.m. EDT on Oct. 11.
Sorkin denied that the hype surrounding the series was an exceptional burden.
“We understand that NBC has high hopes for the show and that’s something to be proud of,” he said, but added: “Honest to God, we max out on the pressure we put on ourselves.”
Sorkin’s comment about “mean-spirited” television came in response to a question about the pilot episode, in which a character decries shows in the mode of NBC’s “Fear Factor” and “The Apprentice.”
He’s never seen those shows, Sorkin said, adding that he didn’t intend to make the network or its executives the series target. The executive played by series co-star Amanda Peet is a heroic character, he said.
Also in the show, debuting 10 p.m. ET Sept. 18, is Timothy Busfield, Sarah Paulson, D.L. Hughley and Nathan Corddry.