Whatever happened to good political TV shows?

Katie LaPotin, Red Alert Politics, March 26, 2012

Political-oriented films like Primary ColorsThe Candidate, and The Ides of March have been so successful with both political wonks and average Americans alike. 

But why hasn’t the genre become popular on TV?

With the exception of NBC’s The West Wing in the 1990s, politically themed TV shows have failed to catch on with American audiences  (think ABC’s Commander in Chief andHail to the Chief, both of which lasted less than a season).

It makes us wonder why political shows haven’t fared so well in recent years when shows taking place in a courtroom or emergency room have flourished.

I’d say part of the reason is that many Americans want to watch shows that don’t require much brain power.

Movies like Primary ColorsThe Candidate, and The Ides of March all focused on character development rather than policy and bureaucracy, which contributed to their popularity.

And all three of those movies also took place on the campaign trail. In theory, a political campaign is the perfect setting for a hit sitcom —  nothing ever goes to plan and anything that can go wrong will ultimately go wrong.

Case in point: The last two seasons of The West Wing almost exclusively focused on the campaign trail.

Only two Internet shows to my knowledge have focused specifically on inner-workings of a major political campaign.

Earlier this year, Hulu released its first original scripted series Battleground, which follows the underdog campaign of a Wisconsin State Senator who has her sights set on Washington. Actor J.D. Walsh (of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip fame) is the brains behind Battleground, which uses the same quasi-documentary format found in NBC’s The Office and Parks and Recreations.

Republican political strategist and senior Rick Santorum advisor John Brabender produced the show Moving Numbers on Zolitics.com in 2009, which follows the re-election campaign of a fictional U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. While it only lasted eight episodes, it featured a hilarious episode with pollster extraordinaire Frank Luntz chowing down on donuts while leading a focus group.

Maybe the 2012 presidential race will inspire some of Hollywood’s top writers to pen a new political TV show, complete with Etch-a-Sketches and Pizza Ranches. Maybe they won’t.

But it would be a nice change from yet another spin-off of Law and Order, wouldn’t it?


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