The producers of "The West Wing" must have been pretty impressed with their idea to stage a political debate between the two fictional presidential candidates on live television Sunday. It was a through-the-looking-glass experience where NBC ran a live debate between two fictional characters, moderated by real-life reporter Forrest Sawyer, and aired with the NBC News Live "bug" (the little station graphic at the bottom of the screen). A similar moment occurred on Fox's football pre-game show on Sunday, albeit much more brief; lasting only a few seconds. Upon returning from a commercial break, James Brown announced that the next segment would be pre-empted so that the President could make an announcement. My heart stopped upon hearing him. Given the times, I expected the worst; maybe an attack, maybe a natural disaster, maybe another unqualified Supreme Court Justice nominee. Instead, comedian Frank Caliendo was made up as Dubya, announcing his game picks for the week.
Neither of these events was harmful per se. The NBC debate was clearly drama - Jimmy Smitts and Alan Alda's characters aren't real; they live in TV Land. The Fox intro may have just been a case of James Brown selling it with dead pan seriousness. If they had handed the intro over to the never-serious Terry Bradshaw, I'd have been spared that two seconds of heart plummet. At issue isn't my response but the creative decision-making behind using the network's news material in the use of entertainment. NBC's decision to do the live broadcast was likely borne out of the need to add a shot in the arm to their once great presidential drama. The use of the news logo, tacky video look, artificial spontaneity and the use of Sawyer were likely the creative decisions of the show's producers, pursued with the network's blessing. But I have moral and artistic objections to the smelting of entertainment and news and of art and cheap tricks. Continued >