One of the consequences, whether intended or not, arising from the election of Donald Trump as President, has been the likely demise of television political drama in the US as we know it.
Trump’s outsize personality, perceived volatility and the general "WTF" factor his elevation to the role of Commander-in-Chief has caused, has made much politically themed TV drama in the US redundant overnight.
The creative community of producers and writers have been plunged into a collective panic attack, as all the old nostrums, tropes and conventions of political drama have been thrown out of the window.
Another consideration may be that after wall-to-wall coverage of a bruising, seemingly interminable nomination/election campaign, viewers will simply zone out fictionalised versions of political in-fighting.
Challenges face long-running series such as House of Cards (Netflix), Veep (HBO), Madame Secretary (CBS); recent debuts including Graves (Epix) and Designated Survivor (ABC), as well as those in varying stages of production/development.
Two forthcoming shows, HBO’s Capitol Hill and TNT’s Civil, may now have to be extensively re-tooled to maintain relevancy in the Age of Trump.
Capitol Hill, created by The Wire's David Simon, in collaboration with veteran Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, examines the world of Washington lobbying, graft and kickbacks.
In the light of Trump’s stated desire to "Drain the Swamp" in Washington, while at the same time seeking to draw a veil over his own complex financial affairs, Capitol Hill could well seem somewhat underpowered compared to real life.
TNT’s Civil may have more relevancy as it plays eerily close to current events. Taking place in the wake of an extremely fractious presidential election, the US finds itself drawn into a second civil war. The West Wing's Bradley Whitford (deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman in the show) has been cast as Grant Taylor, the Democratic candidate for president.
A VP who has had to mask his true aggressive personality, Taylor has cultivated a man of the people persona at odds with his privileged upbringing.
Courtney B Vance (The People vs OJ Simpson) plays NY City police commissioner John Thorne, an old-school former beat cop dubbed “Iron John” by the press. As civil disturbances reach the Big Apple, Thorne reacts with draconian measures, as he gradually assumes near-dictatorial power over the city he had previously sworn to serve and protect.
The UK’s own Toby Jones will take the role of the hokily named shock-jock host Otis O'Dell – a Brit who has taken US citizenship – the character prides himself on being more patriotic than "native-born" Americans, in the manner of real-life Fox News host Stuart Varney, who seems to be under the impression that he has to constantly out-Uncle Sam everyone.
Smart, glib and bellicose, with a finely honed sense of outrage, the character appears to be a composite of the likes of US bloviators Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Trump’s favourite conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones.
Serving as a both as a Greek chorus for the series and political provocateur, Otis will be forced to confront his own role in encouraging the national crisis.
Together with the main protagonists, Civil weaves the personal lives of "ordinary" citizens caught up in the events, who find their actions amplified by instant media, further fuelling the flames of insurrection.
So, Civil has an interesting premise, but again, with Trump as POTUS, who’s to say that reality could end up stranger than fiction? Established shows such as House of Cards, Veep and Madame Secretary face the challenge of relevancy as events have made their scenarios rather old hat. Do they work in some Trump-esque touches or continue to plough their own furrows?
Madame Secretary looks particularly vulnerable, its already dated Obama-era plotline of a female Secretary of State seems like a fantasy in the likelihood of Donald Trump’s grumpy old men administration.
Two new political dramas launched in the US this autumn – Graves and Designated Survivor. Veteran actor Nick Nolte takes the role of former POTUS Richard Graves, who in crisis of conscience, seeks to repair the wrongs of his presidency.
In an era where Trump has proclaimed that he has never felt the need to ask God (or whatever entity he may worship) for forgiveness, the idea of a president who actually possesses a conscience could appear rather quaint.
The high-concept ABC series Designated Survivor imagines a world where virtually all members of the branches of the US government are massacred in a terrorist attack at the State of The Union address. Into the breach steps Kiefer Sutherland as the "designated survivor" and new president Tom Kirkman, an on-his-way-out Secretary of Labour and Urban Development suddenly propelled to the highest office in the land.
As with Civil, an interesting idea, but after high initial audiences, viewing of the show has declined, possibly due to a combination of hackneyed writing and fatigue with politics in general. Besides who needs scripted drama when you have the fun of waking up every day wondering what Donald Trump will get up to?
Of course, lest we forget, broadcasters will now have to contend with Trump’s taste for revenge/"counter-punching".
We have already seen NBC drop (apparently for good) an episode of Law & Order: SUV, which stars Gary Cole as a presidential candidate who finds himself accused of sexual assault by a number of women.
Before the election Trump went after Saturday Night Live (also NBC) for Alec Baldwin’s send-up, pithily commenting: "Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks".
In recent days the President-elect has renewed his attacks on SNL. Together with other denunciations of Amazon/Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, the cast of the popular stage musical Hamilton and his threat to block the proposed AT&T/Warner merger, Trump looks set to rival, if not surpass, Richard Nixon in his vendetta against what he perceives as the biased mainstream media.
Rumours of a Nixon-style "enemies" list are already circulating…Reuse content