As the presidential race heads into the final four months, two new political shows hitting television and the Internet are sure to whet the appetite of political junkies and the disenchanted alike.
“Chasing the Hill,” a pay-per-view online program about a congresswoman running for re-election and “Political Animals,” a USA Network mini-series focusing on the ups and downs of a fictional former first family, both premiere Sunday. Both shows reflect elements of our political climate, while exposing the tough reality of being in the spotlight.
In “Chasing the Hill,” Kristina Ryan played by Robin Weigert is a Democratic congresswoman embattled in a tough re-election campaign. The show stars several “West Wing” alumni, including Richard Schiff, Joshua Melina and Melissa Fitzgerald. The first episode focuses on her campaign’s struggle to raise money, pitted against an opponent with three times as much. That opponent, Samantha Clemons, is spending her money on negative ads, attacking Ryan for a poor attendance record in Congress.
The campaign is searching for something or someone to give them that boost in the final 19 days. But, an appearance on a local talk show stalls that effort, after Ryan blows up at the host and walks off set.
“Can we please vet questions first,” Ryan yells at her staff. “I have asked you this a hundred times and they are going to run with it and run with it.”
The main character in “Political Animals” is also a woman, former first lady and current Secretary of State Elaine Barrish Hammond, played by Sigourney Weaver. She runs into similar issues with the press, after nemesis Washington Globe reporter Susan Berg digs up dirt on her youngest son TJ. Agreeing to withhold the information, Berg is allowed to follow the secretary of state for a week, but like everything else, TJ’s secret eventually comes out.
What’s intriguing about both shows, especially “Political Animals,” are the similarities characters have to the real stars of American politics. In Elaine Barrish Hammond, coming off a failed presidential run to a younger candidate and asked to serve as secretary of state, you see Hillary Clinton. Creator Greg Berlanti has made it no secret that he based Sigourney Weaver’s character on a combination of Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Doug Hammond, Elaine’s other son, serves as her chief of staff and has clear ambitions of his own, revealing shades of a young Bobby Kennedy.
Doug Hammond is played by actor Jimmy Wolk, who tells ABC News that it’s thrilling to be part of a show touching on issues that are relevant today.
“Our country has an immense obsession with politics and celebrity,” says Wolk. “Politicians are celebrities, whether they want to be or not. And the show touches on the duplicity of their lives. Characters appear to be perfect, but they all have weaknesses that are exposed.”
We rarely see what goes on behind the closed doors of our biggest political players and “Political Animals” thrives on diving into real issues like drug addiction, alcoholism, and infidelity – all things families like the Kennedys, Clintons, and Bushs have dealt with.
“Although the similarities to modern political culture are overwhelming at times, the fictional characters take on their own lives,” says Wolk.
That’s what makes political dramas so entertaining. You’re drawn in by the similarities to the beltway, but hooked by the real challenges of balancing public and private life.
Some may be taken aback by the language and aggressive nature of Elaine Barrish-Hammond and Kristina Ryan. But, nobody became successful in politics by being passive and the shows pride themselves on trying to tell it like it is.
The cachet of stars for both shows will surely attract some attention, but will viewers be burnt out by political overload, or appreciate the drama that comes with political power?