Sorkin Back To Broadway

Ken AshfordPopular CultureLeave a Comment

Farnsworthwlogo Live From Studio 60, which kind of grew on me (especially these last episodes), has not been renewed.  Apparently, Aaron Sorkin’s creation just didn’t find its audience, unlike the critically-acclaimed The West Wing and the cult fave SportsNight.

But there is good Sorkin news.  The Farnsworth Invention, his first new play since A Few Good Men in 1989, opens later this year on Broadway.  From Playbill:

The Farnsworth Invention concerns the battle for the patent for the invention of the television set. The race pitted a young genius, Philo T. Farnsworth, who came up with the idea as a high school student, against David Sarnoff, the head of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA).

To be directed by Des McAnuff.  Cast unknown yet.  Scheduled for a November opening.

Farnsworth must have been on Sorkin’s mind for some time.  I recall a scene from SportsNight (which must have aired in 1998 or 1999) in which one character, plated by William H Macy, talks about Farnsworth:

Sam Donovan: Do you guys know who Philo Farnsworth was? He invented television. I don’t mean he invented television like Uncle Milty, I mean he invented the television.

In a little house in Provo, Utah. At a time when the idea of transmitting moving pictures through the air would be like me saying I’ve figured out a way to beam us aboard the Starship Enterprise.

He was a visionary and he died broke and without fanfare.

The guy I really like though was his brother-in-law, Cliff Gardner. He said to Philo, “I know everyone thinks you’re crazy, but I want to be a part of this. I don’t have your head for science, so I’m not gonna be much help with the design and mechanics of the invention. But it sounds like in order to do your testing, you’re gonna need glass tubes.”

See, Philo was inventing a cathode receptor, and even though Cliff didn’t know what that meant or how it worked, he’d seen Philo’s drawing and he knew they were gonna need glass tubes and since television hadn’t been invented yet, it’s not like you could get ‘em at the local TV repair shop. “I want to be a part of this”, Cliff said, “and I don’t have your head for science. How would it be if I taught myself to be a glassblower? And I could set up a little shop in the backyard. And I could make all the tubes you’ll need for testing.”

There oughta be Congressional medals for people like that.

I’ve looked over the notes you’ve been giving over the last year or so, and I have to say that they exhibit an almost total lack of understanding of how to get the best from talented people.

You said before that for whatever reason, I seem to be able to exert authority around here. I assure you, it isn’t because they like me. It’s because they knew two minutes after I walked in the door that I’m somebody who knows how to do something. I can help. I can make glass tubes. That’s what they need.

Sorkin’s writing is a godsend for people like me who like a steady feast of trivial knowledge.