From 'West Wing' To 'Veep' To 'Scandal': The Pull Of Politics On TV

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From Scandal to Veep to House of Cards we’re asking what makes television’s political dramas and comedies so popular.

Vice President Joe Biden jokes with Julia Louis-Dreyfus of the TV show, “Veep,” as she sits at his desk in the Vice President's West Wing office at the White House, April 12, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
Vice President Joe Biden jokes with Julia Louis-Dreyfus of the TV show, “Veep,” as she sits at his desk in the Vice President's West Wing office at the White House. (Wikimedia/Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Back in the day, when Americans tuned in by the millions and millions to The West Wing, they got drama, but they also got a huge helping of noble purpose and high American principle in action. President Jed Bartlet as hero of our highest ideals. Tune in today and its House of Cards, Scandal, Veep. Washington leadership as wicked, ludicrous, power-mad, utterly unprincipled. Does it matter?  This hour On Point: the allure and evolution of TV tales set in the heart of Washington power.
-Tom Ashbrook


David Sims, senior associate editor at The Atlantic, covering culture. His recent piece is Bartlet for America, Forever. (@davidlsims)

Jessica Yellin, fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy. Former CNN Chief White House Correspondent. (@JessicaYellin)

Dave Mandel, executive producer and showrunner of HBO's VEEP. (@DavidHMandel)

From Tom's Reading List

Bartlet for America, Forever — "The gag was also the latest in a long line of enthusiastic throwbacks to a show that depicted a gentler, more idealistic time for Washington where White House staffers could be realistically portrayed as hard-charging, lovable do-gooders. The West Wing has been off the air since 2006, but this unfulfilled desire for harmony and efficacy in the political process is perhaps why there’s been more nostalgia for the fictional Jed Bartlet administration than for any real one in recent memory." (The Atlantic)

How Scandal, Veep and House of Cards have fallen prey to Trump madness — "Of the three shows, then, the HBO comedy Veep came closest to capturing the tone of this particular election – and not just because its characters talk the way Trump would tweet if he’d read English at Oxford like creator Armando Iannucci. In the world of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), a vice-president who’s promoted to Potus after three seasons and a first lady’s suicide attempt, it’s not shrewd manipulators but petty children and incompetent buffoons who populate the highest ranks of government. Veep’s characters constantly mess up, often in public." (The Guardian)

There’s truth behind the fiction of ‘West Wing,’ ‘Veep’ — “The West Wing” lands on the opposite end of the sincerity spectrum from “Veep,” but it nonetheless has given us an indelible portrait of what goes on behind closed doors. The show, which ran from 1999-2006, gave us a glimpse at a government shutdown over budget issues. The show also gave us a view onto the intense chess game that ensues in naming a new Supreme Court justice, a game that has just begun in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Of course, series creator Aaron Sorkin infused his story lines with optimism, and his characters — particularly President Bartlet, but also most of Bartlet’s staffers — were fairly heroic. (Boston Globe)

This program aired on May 18, 2016.


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