Sunday, November 20, 2005

Preferring "West Wing" over Reality

From the Massachusetts Daily News Tribune:
"In "The West Wing" and other popular political dramas, complex crises are often wrapped up in an hour -- minus commercial time -- after some sharp-witted debate and decisive action by the president and his, or her, staff.
But many of the millions who tune in each week to follow President Jed Bartlet of "The West Wing" or President Mackenzie Allen of "Commander in Chief" tune out of day-to-day politics and debate on real-life issues.

Of more than 1,200 viewers polled after watching a recent live debate on "The West Wing," twice as many expressed interest in watching the fictional characters over real candidates.
Political analyst Michael Goldman has watched many real debates in his career and watched U.S. Rep. Matthew Vicente Santos (Jimmy Smits) and U.S. Sen. Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) spar on "The West Wing."
"I thought 'The West Wing' debates were better than all four presidential debates I attended in 2004," said Goldman, a longtime Democratic political consultant who co-hosts a national radio political show called "Simply Put" in New York City. Goldman also teaches courses in politics at Tufts University.
Goldman believes the NBC White House drama helps the real process. He does not think ABC's "Commander in Chief" is as realistic.
"The bottom line is, if programs like "The West Wing" make the public understand that ordinary men have to make tough decisions that aren't easy, then the system is better," said Goldman. "Anything which helps people understand the complexity of governing and running for office is a great thing. Entertainment can educate."
"On 'Commander in Chief' and, 'West Wing' in particular, it helps people understand the political process," said Rosenthal. "I think what it does is humanize the decision-making process and deals with both side of the issues, usually. I think what it does is create some conversation about it, but I don't think it brings about a political shift."
Rosenthal believes viewers consider the TV dramas as somewhat realistic.
Whether people like "The West West" and the "Commander in Chief" or not, are the ratings helping President Bush?
"They hurt the president and add to his woes," said Goldman. "People wonder, why can't the president be like the candidate on 'West Wing'? You can't lose with Alan Alda or Smits."

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