Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by design, as we quickly approach Election Day
in the United States, Israeli television is providing us with some of the best
fictional television programs about politics ever seen on the small
There’s old and new – but all have a certain insight into
November’s race to the White House and, to a certain degree, can shed some light
on Israeli political affairs as well.
First and foremost is West Wing,
which is now being re-run on cable TV. The outstanding drama, which originally
ran from 1999 to 2006 in the US, followed a fictional administration of American
President Josiah Bartlet. In a nutshell, the series focused on both the
political intrigues of the Democratic and Republican parties as well as the
personal lives of key members of the White House staff. The last season, which
is currently being aired, shifted a good deal of attention to focus on a
fictional presidential election.
The race pits a relatively unknown
Latino Democratic congressman, Matt Santos, from Texas, played by Jimmy Smits,
against a veteran Republican senator from California, Arnold Vinick, played by
Back when the show was first running, political insiders I
worked with at the time praised the show for its realism and authentic portrayal
of the campaigns. In the show, each side is desperately trying to outmaneuver
the other and often having to compromise in an effort to win over the support of
After President Obama was elected, many in the press even
compared the West Wing’s fiction to the facts on the ground in
Indeed anyone following the show could find many similarities
between the campaign four years ago and the TV show which aired three years
before that. Strangely enough, the West Wing’s similarities resonate even in the
On the show, the GOP candidate Arnold Vinick is a moderate
leader who served in a liberal state. While he easily takes the nomination
thanks to his charisma and knowledge, he is afterwards badgered by the more
conservative wing of the Republican Party to change his stance on hot-button
To appease these forces he becomes ambiguous on certain issues
and changes his publicly stated opinions. Does this sound familiar to those
following the Romney campaign? West Wing was the brainchild of Aaron Sorkin, a
media master who created some excellent shows and movies. On more than one
occasion, Sorkin has been accused of promoting a liberal agenda, and you’d be
hard pressed to disagree with that assessment.
The subtext for most of
his work has been a feeling of social responsibility, which is supposed to give
the viewer something to think about in hopes of making this a better
His latest show, The Newsroom, which is currently airing on
Israeli TV, is a perfect example of how NOT to win people over by overtly
preaching to the audience. It’s important to mention that while the West Wing
aired on network TV in the US, Newsroom airs on the cable channel HBO, which is
limited in the number of viewers. HBO reaches people who generally more
The program also does not go through the regular FCC/censorship
The hype of Sorkin returning to do a regular TV show was huge
and the cast seemed to be a winning combination. Despite that, critics panned
the pilot. Personally, I always believe that you need to give a show at least
four episodes until you can give a fair assessment.
After watching six
shows, I can honestly say that Newsroom needs to be seriously retooled and
quickly if it’s to survive.
First of all, the characters on the show are
one-dimensional and most seem to have very few redeeming qualities. They are
annoying, spineless or impossible personalities.
I might be able to live
with some of that if Sorkin wasn’t trying to slam his message into my head with
a baseball bat.
By that I mean that there is absolutely no subtlety in
the way he’s trying to let the viewer know that he feels, for example, that the
TV news industry in the US is dreck or that the American people are being misled
by hard-line Republicans (i.e. the Tea Party).
The shows also
deals with issues from the recent past – the BP oil spill and the Arizona
immigration law among others, and it feels like Sorkin is using the show to
bluntly give his take on those and other issues. For some reason, I’m
uncomfortable with that. Maybe it’s because Sorkin is lecturing the viewer on
how he thinks these stories should have been handled.
entertainment value there might be in the show is far outweighed by the immense
political substance in every episode. Due to its proximity to the 2012 election,
Newsroom smells like Sorkin and HBO are more concerned about persuading than
The last show I would like to mention briefly is the
classic political British satire Yes Minister, which became Yes Prime
I strongly recommend everyone watch this show, which is now
being re-aired on Educational television. Educational indeed.
original 36-episode run in the 1980s, the program reached the pinnacle of its
genre by telling the truth about the relations between elected officials and the
people, as well as about the inner workings of government.
production values aren’t up to today’s standards, the acting was superb and the
dialogue still holds up over 30 years later. Here are some lines from the show:
On political speeches: “A good speech isn’t one where we can prove that the
minister is telling the truth, it’s one that nobody else can prove that he’s
lying... Delivering a speech is just a formality you have to go through in order
to get the press release into the papers.”
On suppressing information:
“Suppression is the instrument of totalitarian dictatorships.
talk of that sort of thing in a free country. We simply take a democratic
decision not to publish.”
On foreign policy: “The four-stage strategy –
the standard foreign office response in a time of crisis. In stage one we say:
‘Nothing is going to happen.’ In stage two we say ‘Something is maybe going to
happen but we should do nothing about it.’ In stage three we say that ‘Maybe we
should do something about it, but there’s nothing we can do.’ In stage four we
say ‘Maybe there’s something we could have done, but it’s too late
On NOT voting to condemn Israel in the United Nations: “If you [the
prime minister] insist on an even-handed approach the foreign office might agree
to you abstaining on the matter of Israel so long as you authorize our man there
to make a powerful speech attacking Zionism... The UN is the accepted forum for
expression of international hatred.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
Jeremy Ruden is an independent media consultant.