Writer, producer and creator Aaron Sorkin cares deeply about the power of words and the future of television, and both concerns take center stage in the new drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (9 p.m., NBC). Let's not mince words: It's the best new show of the season.
Clearly based on "Saturday Night Live" and its long decline into mediocrity, "Studio 60" imagines the executive producer (Judd Hirsch) of the comedy showcase storming into view during a live sketch and delivering a blistering attack on his network and the dismal state of his own show, and television, comedy and pop culture in general.
After he's fired, the new network president (Amanda Peet, in a great role that emphasizes her intelligence rather than her glamorous looks) decides to re-energize the show by hiring two celebrated and controversial former writers (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) as executive producers.
As friends, colleagues and troubled souls, Perry and Whitford's characters have great chemistry and are instantly believable. This is a dream for Perry, a chance for him to transcend "Friends" and Chandler forever.
In a single pilot, "Studio" manages to engage viewers in heartfelt arguments about censorship, culture, integrity, creativity, religion, drugs, accountability and courage. Not a bad way to spend an hour watching television.
¢ How's this for a contrived situation? "The Class" (7 p.m., CBS) commences when perky doctor Ethan (Jason Ritter) decides to surprise his fiancee by reuniting members of their third-grade class.
The resulting social jumble is every person's nightmare and a comedy writer's dream. We meet a couple of social misfits, a cranky cutup, an unfulfilled beauty married to an ex-football star old enough to be her father and her ex-boyfriend - a slacker who lives with his mother.
Created by talent associated with both "Friends" and "Mad About You," this ongoing reunion features a barrage of crisp one-liners and surprisingly dark slapstick. No one will ever confuse "The Class" with the future of comedy, but next to "Two and a Half Men," it's Chekhov.
¢ Filmmaker C.C. Goldwater profiles her grandfather in the documentary "Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater" (8 p.m., HBO). The intimate connection between filmmaker and subject is the film's strength and weakness. As a personal portrait and family history, it's fascinating. But viewers hoping to understand Goldwater's role in the evolution of Republican politics from the 1950s to the 1980s will have to look elsewhere.
Tonight's other highlights
¢ The Jaguars host the Steelers (7:30 p.m., ESPN).
¢ The race for the loot becomes paramount on "Prison Break" (7 p.m., Fox).
¢ Teri Hatcher appears on "Inside the Actors Studio" (7 p.m., Bravo).
¢ New evidence links Sara's disappearance to another case on "Vanished" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14,V).
¢ Horatio pursues Marisol's killer to Brazil on "CSI: Miami" (9 p.m., CBS).
¢ Architects, engineers and artists make shelter out of rubbish on "The Scrap House" (9 p.m., National Geographic).