The Legal-political Revolution Is Not Being Televised

Why are there no TV shows about former politicians being brought to justice?

Ehud Olmert and Martin Sheen in a scene from “The West Wing.”
Ehud Olmert and Martin Sheen in a scene from “The West Wing.”Credit: Tomer Appelbaum, AP

As a result of familiarization with the usual crime-and-detection TV series I’ve been following since becoming a full-fledged TV viewer (one who is glued to the screen most of his free time), there are two domains I’ve learned a lot about: one is the law, and the other is the behind-the-scenes world of politics.

A law series is usually a logical continuation, if not a culmination, of a crime-and-detection series, in which the plot usually ends in the courtroom (unless it has a sequel behind bars, as in “Orange is the New Black”). In that vein we had, in the far-away past, TV series like “Perry Mason” and then “Paper Chase,” “L.A. Law” and “Ally McBeal.” In the more-recent past, we had “Drop Dead Diva,” “Boston Legal,” “Law & Order,” “The Good Wife” and any other police procedural that has the criminals brought to justice. That means long courtroom scenes with a judge (“all rise”), jury and the words “objection,” “sustained” and “overruled” being bandied about.

The politics series give us the illusion of being voyeurs of the private lives of politicians. In “real life” – i.e., the view of “politics” through the prism of TV news – we follow our presidents and prime ministers consecutively; as TV viewers we can serve several presidents and prime ministers simultaneously. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been following U.S. President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his chief of staff Leo McGarry (played by the late John Spencer, a veteran of L.A. Law), then U.S. President Santos (played by Jimmy Smits, also an L.A. Law survivor) on “West Wing.” While watching it, I was also avidly following the 10 American Presidents (Barnes, the Palmer brothers, Prescott, Keeler, Logan, Gardner, Daniels, Taylor and Heller) served by the invincible Jack Bauer on “24.”

The list goes on. On “Scandal,” which has just ended its third season, (the fourth is in the making), President Fitzgerald Grant III had his myriad amorous, familial and political crises ably managed by Olivia Pope and her associates, while on “House of Cards” (third season in the making) the once congressman and now Vice President Underwood (and wife) are plot to replace President Walker.

Even in little Israel we’ve had our home-grown TV lawyers (Gaby Siton) and politicians (“The Prime Minister’s Children,” with Prime Minister Shaul Agmon played by Rami Heuberger; two seasons, with no sequels in sight, alas).

The only crossbreed we haven’t had so far - be it in an American, British or Israeli series - is one combining the legal and the political, in which fictional presidents or prime ministers have brushes with the law but are extricated by loyal agents and crisis managers, or voted out of office, or killed while still on duty – and thus spared the shame of impeachment or sentencing. Israeli TV viewers and citizens in general have come as close as one can to such a legal-political series with the Holyland court case, especially in the two court sessions the week before last: Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in jail for taking bribes, while his former aide, Shula Zaken, was sentenced to 11 months, following a plea bargain in which she implicated Olmert in other cases, effectively harming his chances of appealing his verdict and sentence.

This raises two questions. Why are there no producers, writers, directors or actors proposing a legal-political series about former politicians being brought to justice after leaving office? And why do real-life court proceedings dealing with former politicians being brought to justice after leaving office not become TV hits, like the fictional legal and political series mentioned above?

The first, and main, reason for that is technical. By and large, in Israel, the U.S. and the U.K., cameras are kept out of the courtroom. The O.J. Simpson trial, televised live, was very much the exception that has solidified the rule. If the mere presence of TV cameras at any real-life event makes things happen, their presence in the courtroom is seen as endangering the “sub judice” status expected of court proceedings.

A much simpler reason for legal proceedings not becoming fodder for live TV, is the sad fact that, most of the time, they provide a rather dull spectacle of bored jurors (in places where juries exist), rambling lawyers, not very coherent witnesses, and so on. The TV courtroom functions according to tightly-written dramatic scripts, without dead moments, long silences, redundancies and repetitive questions.

Another reason is that former politicians are has-beens, and thus not very appetizing as heroes, even in their own dramas. They do not rule the world or the state anymore; they barely rule their own lives. So who cares if they are guilty or not?

Even as subjects of reality TV, they would make a poor showing. No one in his right mind would spend hundreds of hours watching a live broadcast of the Holyland court case, or even Olmert’s own case. Which just goes to show that there’s a world of difference between the world we live in and the world portrayed in the many TV series about different facets of our lives. That is, unless a legal-political series comes along to prove me wrong.



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