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Political Series Showrunners Struggle Writing Television Plots in the Trump Era

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Writing Television in the Trump Era
A scene from Season 4 of Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ (David Giesbrecht/Netflix)

 

This has proved a golden (or perhaps glutted) era of television when it comes to political dramas and comedies. There’s Veep and Homeland and Scandal and House of Cards and Madam Secretary and 24: Legacyto name a few.

While these series’ showrunners have had license to skirt reality in their scripts, the landscape changed with the ascension of president Donald Trump.

The New York Times tracked down some of the showrunners from the top political dramas on TV to discuss how they are writing their shows now that Trump is president. Present at the roundtable were Shonda Rhimes, creator of the ABC hit Scandal; Frank Pugliese and Melissa Jane Gibson, the showrunners of House of Cards; Barbara Hall, the creator of Madam Secretary; and David Mandel, of Veep.

Rhimes, a Hillary Clinton supporter, notes that Scandal featured a “Trump-like” character in Hollis Doyle, an oil tycoon “who we made up as the craziest person to ever run for president.”

Referring to a plotline that involved Russians “trying to undermine the U.S. government,” Rhimes explained that she had to completely redo that part of the season, because “the audience [was] going to think we wrote the news.”

Madam Secretary‘s Hall brings up a related point: in trying not to write or rewrite the news—or even predict it before it happens (in a fictional environment, of course)—showrunners are grappling with having to change it at the drop of a hat, because what’s going on in the White House is unfolding quickly. House of Cards‘ Pugliese drives this home: “What we’re competing with to a certain extent are the 24-hour news channels.”

Read the Times‘ full roundtable discussion here. Below, watch Kevin Spacey, who stars as President Frank Underwood on Netflix’s House of Cards, reveal whom he is talking to when he soliloquizes to the camera in the show.

—RealClearLife