How Scripted TV Is Taking Aim at President Trump

Call it the era of Trump TV.

Nearly every night of the week now comes with a comedy, drama or episode of Saturday Night Live that is taking on Trump. The post-election trend is providing for timely and prescient storylines, ratings bumps and, apparently, one unhappy White House administration.

The Trump camp is particularly bothered by recent episodes from two political dramas, ABC's Designated Survivor and CBS' Madam Secretary, according to a new report from the New York Daily News. The story quoted a source close to Trump, who referenced the two series as examples of how the "Hollywood elite" is using scripted TV to make "disparaging" innuendos about the president.

On Madam Secretary, Tea Leoni's secretary of state met with a fictional Filipino president who groped her and who has a history of paying off women toward whom he allegedly made inappropriate advances. The foreign leader was also conducting foreign policy decisions based on his own business dealings and another country using his secrets as blackmail.

The episode saw backlash over similarities between the storyline and the real president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, but Leoni addressed the backlash on Twitter, saying, "Funny, I had someone else in mind."

On Designated Survivor, characters were discussing Kiefer Sutherland's newbie President Tom Kirkman, saying the commander-in-chief cannot be learning as he goes. Prior to taking the Oval Office, Kirkman was the secretary of housing and urban development and lacked political experience. He only became president because he was the highest-ranking Cabinet official to survive a massive terror attack. 

Media watchers close to Trump and the Trump administration felt the Madam Secretary plot was a dig at Trump's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that the Designated Survivor accusation that the president can't learn on the job was a "direct attack," according to the source quoted in the story.

(While Trump is an avid Saturday Night Live critic, he has yet to bemoan scripted TV on the record.)

But if Trump associates only found those two anti-Trump examples, they aren't watching enough TV.

The Good Wife spinoff, The Good Fight, tackled the topic of censorship under Trump by centering an episode of the CBS All Access drama around the twice-delayed Trump-inspired episode of Law & Order: SVU, and the sixth season of Homeland, currently airing on Showtime, revolves around a new president-elect (Elizabeth Marvel) being at war with the U.S. intelligence community. The non-strop drama of the Claire Danes-starrer has been unfolding around a plot of bubbling distrust between the president-elect and her CIA heads (Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham), who think their new leader is naive and inexperienced.

Sunday's episode revealed that an underground network has been spreading propaganda and "fake news" via social media. The following night over on ABC, Quantico also stumbled upon its own troll farm when it aired an episode dedicated to fake news. The story, inspired by the real-life Pizzagate incident, was meant to explain how and why fake news exists amid a fictional but equally contentious climate for the media.

"Journalism might be dead in America," a journalist quipped to leading man Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin) during the Monday episode. Adding, "This isn't Russia, journalists don't vanish here."

Quantico showrunner Josh Safran shed some light on the new TV phenomenon when explaining to THR why his terror drama decided to drop the terror to take on Trump after the 2016 presidential election.

"The role of art in any time [is] to reflect the time that it’s in," he said, also discussing an upcoming episode that will see the characters debating both sides of a Muslim registry bill. "If it’s a time of good prosperity, often we don’t look to politics to write about, we look to write about different times or different period of strife in peoples’ lives. But when there’s political upheaval or unrest in the country, artists tend to skew towards politics and how they relate to people. That’s what you’re seeing is so many shows turning in that direction."

While cable shows like Homeland and HBO's returning political comedy Veep complete their seasons months ahead of time, network shows like Quantico and ABC's Scandal have the luxury of writing episodes closer to the headlines running when they air.

Scandal's premiere — which saw its U.S. president get assassinated on election night — and the first few episodes of the current season were filmed months ahead of the real presidential election. But this season's parallels are still "crazy and a little frightening," star Kerry Washington told THR ahead of the premiere, which was originally scheduled to air the night before Trump's inauguration but was pushed back to Jan. 26. Her costar, Tony Goldwyn, explained that Scandal is "an alternate universe and is not a political commentary," something Veep showrunner David Mandel echoed while discussing his upcoming season of Veep, which premieres next month.

“There are the occasional jokes, but we’re not SNL, and if we try and make a joke about Trump on Veep it will be old by the time it airs,” said Mandel at a SXSW panel for the show. “For us, tragedy plus time equals comedy.” 

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