Over the past few months, you haven’t been able to turn on the TV without the face of the new president staring back – for a man who prizes ratings and attention, this level of network coverage must be a dream.
However, Trump will touch TV by more than just appearing on it – television always reacts to the new man in the Oval Office, and their personality helps shape the programmes we watch. It’s not going to happen overnight, but just how will the presidency of Donald Trump shape TV? A piece in the New York Times has some suggestions.
Firstly, it’ll change some parts of TV in a fairly obvious manner – shows set in the present day will incorporate events and discuss issues that arise. Jane the Virgin, a show that features a mainly Latino cast, will feature the issue of immigration in future episodes (as well as a look at the potential repeal of Obamacare). The show’s creator, Jennie Urman, said that the show will look at how policies affect characters the audience have grown to care about, ‘making the political personal and creating more space for empathy, understanding and compassion.’
Jane the Virgin, a show that features a mainly Latino cast, will feature the issue of immigration in future episodes
Some shows have been hit very hard, because they had already hedged their bets on a Clinton win. An example is The Good Fight, a spinoff of The Good Wife, starring Christine Baranski. The original show was, in part, a satirical take on liberals during the Obama years, and the plan had been for a similar treatment of Mrs Clinton’s tenure. A lot of rewriting has now been required – the producers say that Trump’s victory changed about 75% of the show, and has given it more of a political focus (Baranski’s character works at a primarily black law firm, where many of the lawyers view Trump with ‘trepidation’).
Trump himself is shaping one aspect of American TV – the producers are looking for big and divisive characters for their shows. In the past, compelling characters like 24’s Jack Bauer have often lead to strong ratings, and the divisiveness of his personality got people talking about the show. Companies have always seen the value in a big personality, but the election of Trump (himself a reality TV personality) has really focused executive ideas. ‘It’s not a time to be doing quiet, small storytelling,’ says Dana Walden, a chairman of the Fox Television Group, ‘that wouldn’t survive right now.’
Trump’s party will also help shape the face of TV. TV is struggling to compete with online media and executives are unlikely to alienate viewers who support Trump or voted Republican (nor do they want to upset Republican lawmakers – that would be asking for trouble). Brian Grazer, producer of shows such as Empire, believes that the amount of creative risks will therefore decrease, and that shows like Empire would struggle to be greenlit today.
Trump himself is shaping one aspect of American TV – the producers are looking for big and divisive characters for their shows
Creator of Shades of Blue Adi Hasak also predicts a division between broadcasters and creators – the broadcasters will be looking for shows that celebrate America and its traditional values, whereas writers will be pushing shows with strong female leads, increased LGBT representation, and other aspects that the Trump administration appear opposed to. This divide could result in writers struggling to find broadcasters for their shows.
If this makes for grim reading, there is, perhaps, a silver cloud – recognising the increased divisions in the country, shows have been commissioned as escapist fare, which will do more than ‘cater to just the coasts,’ in the words of ABC TV president Patrick Moran. Although there will certainly be more dramas and documentaries dealing with the current political climate, TV will also function as a means of escapism.
Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, said: ‘At a point where there’s a lot of turmoil in the world around us, part of what we want to do is be able to relax, to enjoy, to laugh, and to feel.’ TV will function much as ever – a window to our world, or a chance to see a different one.