On Sunday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending the New Yorker Festival’s “Television and Politics” panel at Florence Gould Hall. New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum was joined by a who’s who of the post-West Wing television world to talk about a variety of topics, ranging from why political television seems cynical in the Age of Obama to how to achieve political balance in a Hollywood writers’ room.
The panel consisted of Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and the soapy political thriller Scandal; Armando Iannucci, creator of the Emmy-winning HBO series Veep; W. Kamau Bell, host of Totally Biased (where several TVWS alumns are currently staffed); and Robert and Michelle King, the husband and wife team behind The Good Wife.
Conventional wisdom long held that political television was Nielsen’s poison, but in the last decade America seems to have grown a taste for Washington’s wheelings and dealings. Towards the midway point of the discussion, Nussbaum noted that while real world politics is often the domain of white men, all three protagonists on the panel’s fictional series were women. The Kings also noted that while politics has long been thought of as what happens on the Senate floor, they were equally interested in the personal politics that play out in everyone’s lives, including us “normals,” as Veep’s Selina Meyers would put it. While the represented series ran the gamut from political thriller to farce to tech-savy procedural, all the creators were in agreement that the best way to write interesting political television is to focus on the topics that are of interest to you, the writer.