The fall TV lineup is awash in shows inspired by Washington, D.C. Sadly, they’re cold potatoes compared with the real thing.
The daily dramas unfolding in the real West Wing are far more compelling than commander-in-chief Geena Davis battling sexist slurs. A president on a month-long vacation ignores a Category 5 hurricane until it destroys one of the great cities of the world?
And how could a TV drama be stranger than the tale of Tom DeLay, a former pest exterminator who refuses to speak to his mother, becomes the most powerful man in Congress, and gets indicted on conspiracy charges?
Then there’s “Bones,” about a forensic anthropologist toiling away at a Smithsonian look-alike institution. How could it be any more entertaining than the saga of handsome Bill Frist, a top-notch brain surgeon who is elected the majority leader of the Senate, where he does daily battle with Democrats, Republicans AND the White House? In the meantime, he orders his stock shares in his family’s multimillion-dollar hospital holdings sold just before their value plummets. Are his presidential hopes scuttled? Stay tuned.
On TV, we have geriatric Dennis Hopper in the Pentagon’s famed corridor of power, the E-Ring, bizarrely orchestrating pretend fire fights around the globe. But in real life, we have geriatric Don Rumsfeld and his loyal cadre starting a real war and then not knowing how to get out of it.
In the past we’ve had TV dramas based on the Supreme Court. All of them tanked. How could they compare with the real life story of John Roberts and his fairy-tale family as he is plucked from obscurity to be the nation’s chief justice, jokes with senators that he shouldn’t answer their questions because judging is like playing baseball, and ends up confirmed 78 to 22?
It’s somewhat surprising there hasn’t yet been a show based on Hillary Clinton. Shy little girl with thick glasses goes to law school, meets bigger-than-life Arkansas boy, marries him and has her heart broken several times, goes to the White House as first lady, becomes a senator from a state she never lived in before, and starts planning to run for president. But who would believe it?
And why not a drama about a D.C. bureaucrat? An obscure Oklahoma lawyer named Brownie has a friend who looks like Dilbert’s boss and is the president’s friend who transports him to Washington where, despite a padded resume, he ends up running the agency that manages national disasters. He’s in charge while 90,000 square miles are wrecked and hundreds die for lack of food, water and medical attention. He is sacked but keeps his salary and goes before Congress to blame everyone but his fourth-grade teacher. Unrealistic, you say?
There’s never been a decent farcical reality TV show based on the White House. But how could it get much more eye-popping than a president going on TV to warn we have to conserve gasoline and then making his seventh trip down to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast in Air Force One, which costs more than $6,000 an hour to operate, plus a fleet of backup planes. He also had just flown to Texas and then to Colorado to sit in the Cheyenne Mountain bunker to get updates on Hurricane Rita. The last time I rode in the presidential motorcade, last month, there were about a dozen and a half vehicles for a ten-minute trip to a national prayer service for hurricane victims.
Now and then TV producers mull over the idea of a show depicting how the power brokers really operate in their Capitol Hill hideaways. But who would watch now that we’ve all publicly witnessed hapless Rep. David Dreier, a California Republican on tap to succeed DeLay, pushed aside as too moderate by fire-breathing social conservatives. Republicans don’t even need Democrats to have a knockdown battle.
We could have a TV version of “All the President’s Men,” but it would be too uncomfortable with the ongoing investigation of whether presidential adviser Karl Rove broke the law by leaking the name of a CIA undercover operative.
Of course, there might be a viable TV sitcom involving a national contest as Democrats search for an agenda, a few ideas, anything to hang the 2006 election on other than criticism of all things Republican. School children all over America could be asked each week for their thoughts on what Democrats should stand for.
But, hey, as long as we’ve got CNN and MSNBC and Fox and The Daily Show, we really don’t need to watch much else to get a well-rounded nightly diet of drama, pathos, corruption, laughter and silliness.
(Ann McFeatters is Washington Bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Toledo Blade. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)