K Street

I just watched the premiere of K Street on HBO. Some thoughts:

There are some TV shows that people watch even though they know they’re trash. I include The OC and America’s Next Top Model among such guilty pleasures. It’s so overdramatic and trivial, why would anyone care to watch? (Sex appeal.) K Street takes a different tact. It’s so banal and uninteresting, why would anyone want to watch? HBO’s official site prominently displays the quote from Mike Deaver: ”[Political consultants] spend their entire day trying to effect a half a sentence in a piece of legislation.” Americans can barely make it through 30 minutes of network news diluted with sensationalized crime reports and human interest stories. Why would people enjoy watching political consultants drilling presidential primary candidates on debate tactics when these people probably won’t even watch the debates?

So, the target audience isn’t the typical crowd of Osbourne addicts and American Idol voters. It’s people who follow political journalism or are politically active. The former will no doubt cringe that the show starred James Carville and Paul Begala, who spend their evenings doing political commentary on CNN’s Crossfire, another AOL Time Warner company. For a show that attempts to seem raw and uncensored, this can seem as phony as product placement.

But before I cry blatant self-promotion, I concede that the phone focused on Democrats while AOL Time Warner’s executives are staunch Republicans. Of course, nobody likes watching Republicans, and there’s no Republican primary. Also, no political pundit is more TV-friendly than James Carville. K Street made several references to his intense, outspoken personality, but his famous in-your-face arguments were nowhere to be found in the premiere.

The idea of doing a reality show about politicians smacks of mental masturbation. Politicians calculate their behavior. Reality TV thrives on people being outrageous and the potential of a gaff.

Begala described K Street as “part fiction, part reality show, part documentary”. Quibbling over semantics, I’d say that ‘reality show’ is ill-defined enough to comprise to other two. ‘Documentary’ is thrown in to lend an air of legitimacy. The fictional parts of the show are necessary to generate some subplots accompanying the major plot: the 2004 presidential election. The subplots so far are Carville taking flack from other Democratic candidates for helping Dean prepare for a debate, and Carville’s (and his wife Mary Matalin’s) consulting agency hiring a new employee. Approximate quote of Matalin describing the applicant: “He’s everything. Is he black or white? Straight or gay? East coast or West coast? Republican or Democrat?” Need to drum up a plotline? Omniman takes shape and rescues a slow-news week.

And who wants to watch politicians and political consultants act? They suck at it.

The complete lack of a musical score is cool.

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