Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington

Shaping the President on Television’s The West Wing

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About the Book

Before the unprecedented televised presidential debates of 1960, most Americans were able to relate to their leaders in little more than an historical context. In the era of televised elections, however, the media have allowed Americans to witness the paternal, moral and intellectual qualities of their president up close. Television has been so critical to this process of political socialization that, for many Americans, the televised image of the president is the president.
As the acclaimed television drama The West Wing demonstrates, fictional representations of the presidency can also be significant civic forces. This book examines how film and television drama contribute to shaping the presidency and the way most Americans understand it, and particularly the processes of political education. The text discusses The West Wing’s didactic potential, its representation of White House politics, and its depiction of race and gender, with commentary on how fictional representations of the presidency become important elements of American political consciousness.

About the Author(s)

Melissa Crawley writes the weekly television column Stay Tuned for More Content Now, a division of GateHouse News Service. She lives in Lahaina, Hawaii.

Bibliographic Details

Melissa Crawley
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 232
Bibliographic Info: appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2439-9
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5524-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

Introduction      7

One: Theorizing the Presidency      17

Learning the Presidency: The Political Socialization Studies      17

The Media as an Agent of Political Socialization      25

Processing the Presidency      29

Two: Communicating the Presidency on Screen      34

The President on Film      34

Broadcasting the President      40

Campaigning for the Presidency      45

The President in Television Drama and Comedy      51

Three: A West Wing Primer      61

Beginnings      61

Quality Television and The West Wing      63

A Note on the Issue of Quality      69

Staging the Presidency      70

Team Bartlet      76

Leo McGarry      78

Josh Lyman      81

Toby Ziegler      84

C. J. Cregg      87

Sam Seaborn      94

Four: True Fiction      107

Representing the White House      110

I’m Not a Politician But I Play One on TV      117

Reel Politics      118

Documentary Special      121

Performing the President      124

Screening the President      127

Five: The Making of a President      138

The Paternal President      142

Campaign Discourse and the Power of the Paternal      144

Bartlet as Father Figure      146

The Moral President      156

The Oval Office as Sacred Space      161

The President as Preacher      163

The Intellectual President      181

Six: End Game      188

Sounds Like…      188

Reality Check      191

Character Actor      192

Appendix: Episodes by Season, 1999–2003      195

Notes      201

Bibliography      205

Index      223

Book Reviews & Awards

“a very useful guide”—Communication Booknotes Quarterly; “for many Americans, the televised image of the president is the president…discusses The West Wing’s didactic potential, its representation of White House politics, and its depiction of race and gender, with commentary on how fictional representations of the presidency become important elements of American political consciousness”—New Books in the Communications Library.