Wednesday, January 25, 2006

WEST WING And COMMANDER IN CHIEF Both Victims Of Tarnished Government Image

Two once popular television programs seem to be falling victim to the tarnished image of government. NBC will be cancelling WEST WING after this year, and the ratings of COMMANDER IN CHIEF is also in steep fall. The viewing public seems to have lost interest in presidential dramas against a backdrop of a White House that is sharply partisan and ideologically driven, influence peddling scandals of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a wiretapping without warrants political debate, a war in Iraq that drags on year after year, far right appointments to the Supreme Court where ideology rather than a fair hearing for all sides in cases seems to be the biggest consideration. And a president very unKennedylike in appeal has helped to destroy any romantic interest in the White House and hurt interest in television dramas about the White House. Real world politics has helped to ruin the interest in politics as television drama.

It is deeply sad that that much damage to the romantic view of the White House is now a done deal. Many in the public no longer see great wisdom from the real White House, where an all-wise president in television dramas now appears to be such a work of pure fiction that many who once viewed both the WEST WING and COMMANDER IN CHIEF have left. While it is clear that WEST WING has grown a little stale in content, the big ratings drop in ABC's COMMANDER IN CHIEF is a little more interesting. Some very compelling story lines of recent weeks have failed to draw big audiences when the network competition from CBS and NBC have been weak. CBS is airing reruns of crime dramas such as CSI in the 9PM Tuesday time slot, while NBC is airing the far ratings weaker comedy SCRUBS, which draws a far lighter audience than MY NAME IS EARL which has been moved to Thursday nights.

NBC will not be in any better ratings condition with the loss of WEST WING from the schedule next year. Coupled with the loss of veteran comedy, WILL & GRACE, NBC will lose two veteran programs with an audience appeal of loyal followers, although WEST WING has a declining audience of those loyal followers . Of the new replacements programs this year on NBC, both INCONCEIVABLE and THREE WISHES became quick failures, only MY NAME IS EARL is going to survive for a full season as well as another run into next year. Unless NBC has a quality program under development, the loss of the WEST WING and the probable replacement with a new weak contender program will draw no better audience than WEST WING, and will only help NBC lose more audience appeal. NBC is probably better off to continue WEST WING for another year, but simply to step up the writing with new high drama that will attract viewers to give it a second look.

COMMANDER IN CHIEF is in a different bind. It's a good program, although maybe not quite as good as WEST WING, but it is certainly a worthwhile drama. Among weaker 9PM Tuesday competition, it simply is not drawing as strong of audience as it should. Geena Davis a fine actress, awarded a recent Golden Globe award. And the two fine Canadian actors, Donald Sutherland and Nastasha Henstridge are both in fine form playing a nearly villianous and dark opposition force not seen since the evil empire of Darth Vader's STAR WARS. Yet despite this scenario for fine conflict and drama, COMMANDER IN CHIEF has steadily lost ratings power since it's premier on the fall 2005 schedule by ABC. It has to be explained that mere audience fatigue generated by a real world frustration with the real White House and pthe current political environment must be at least partially to blame.

It is not only NBC which is a ratings decline with a decline in programs such as WEST WING, but both ratings weak WB and UPN networks will form a single corportation in a merger to create a single network, probably salvaging both the best urban comedy favorites as well critically acclaimed series such as VERONICA MARS.

But the future of presidential dramas is beginning to look very bleak now. In a political environment of a far right ideologically driven White House and a Democratic opposition who look somewhat toothless and weak in a failure to answer even the most lame and absurd policies from the White House, the once shiny armor of Camelot appears to be so tarnished that not even a presidential drama such as WEST WING or COMMANDER IN CHIEF Is able to hold onto much of an audience. What this says for the ability of the real White House to disillusion millions cannot be understated.


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