Pop 20

Sophomore slump for presidential campaign? It's all about marketing

by Aaron Sagers


14 September 2008


Fall TV season has already begun, but the one entertainment program many Americans have been filling their TV time with, the presidential campaign, has slipped into a sophomore slump where formulaic plotlines and flat dialogue has led to viewer disinterest. This season of the political game show is like the second season of “Lost” where no question is satisfactorily answered and new mysteries are constantly introduced.

Luckily, all is not “Lost” for the few remaining weeks of the political theatre production. In fact, as John McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis said, this election isn’t about “issues.” It’s about entertainment; it’s about strong casting and episodic plotlines. So if the following players utilize a few tips from Fall TV and pop-culture as a whole, they might win the contest and redeem this election season by re-branding the “Obama vs. McCain” show as:

“The New Adventures of How I Met Two and a Half Heroes (and Criminal Minds) Pushing Dirty, Sexy Money to win Smallville and make a Deal (or No Deal) for the House and not be The Biggest Loser.”


Everyone, even the opposing team, acknowledges that John McCain is a hero, and that is admirable. But this has been a summer of heroes, so he should add “super” to the hero title. Another P.O.W., Tony Stark, pulled this off by building a super-suit of armor in captivity in “Iron Man.” So what’s stopping McCain? We all know he underwent radiation therapy for cancer, so clearly he’s prepped to get bitten by something that will give him cool powers. There is a precedent for super-pols; Nathan Petrelli on “Heroes” can fly.

Also, he needs to lose the handle of “Maverick.” It’s overused and has lost its meaning. Plus, I know of two Mavericks in pop. There’s Tom Cruise’s Mav from “Top Gun,” and the Mel Gibson Western-comedy movie about a rascally gambler. Neither of these are particularly fresh or relevant, and “Maverick” only highlights the age thing and loses any hope for the 18-34 male vote. How about something from the last decade, like “Neo”? After all, he was “The One.” And need I remind anyone of what happened to Maverick’s “Goose”?


I don’t know how John McCain managed to break Peggy Hill from her “King of the Hill” contract, but I think she’ll be a great veep. By using her as an attack dog against the other side, McCain also cast his very own “Gossip Girl,” which appeals to the youth demo. That Alaska show “Men In Trees” was cancelled, and there hasn’t been a real hotness for the state since “Northern Exposure” (unless you count the unflattering Alaskan bachelor reality show and the movie “Insomnia” by Christopher Nolan), but Palin isn’t baked Alaskan yet.

If she can get Ellen Page to replace preggo-teen daughter Bristol, McCain will have the golden ticket. Not only was Page “for realz” adorable, but her character, and the name of the hit bun-in-the-underage-oven flick, is “Juno”—which is, of course, the capital of polar bear central (though, admittedly, spelled a little differently). Additionally, Palin has a new baby of her own. Introducing a new baby always helps reinvigorate a show in later seasons. And Palin’s a working mom, which does well in the Nielsens. She might be too busy to be both a mommy and vice-leader of the free world, but who doesn’t love babies?


I dare someone to deny Barack Obama’s cool factor. But is he too cool? Some of our most beloved protagonists on TV are a little dorky. Hiro Nakamura can move through time and space, but he is still a fanboy with a lousy haircut. Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon, again with the glasses, is arguably the new queen of the dorks, and super-dork Clark Kent is a mild-mannered farm boy. Next time Obama heads to Scranton to win over the blue collar Yuengling drinkers, I think he should head to Chili’s and whip out a well-placed “that’s what she said.” But he must stop short of embracing beets, bears and “Battlestar Galactica”—that’s when dorkiness becomes just plain creepy.

In addition, Obama might win the Oval Office by becoming a little more oval himself. Say what you will about the nation’s obesity problems, but America loves fat guys. While he shouldn’t drop his I.Q. to their level, Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin are pop-culture icons. Even the surly Newman-esque fat guys like Danny DeVito’s Frank on “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” and Turtle on “Entourage,” are the best, how shall I say, well-rounded, fleshed-out characters. Randy from “My Name Is Earl” is the show’s biggest heart, and though it’s not a fall show anymore, I theorize that Hurley is actually the big cheese that “Lost” revolves around. Clearly, this approach helped Bill Clinton in ‘92.


Joe Biden is a supporting player to watch the remainder of this season. He’s both the curmudgeonly old-guy character, and the show’s bad boy. Audiences respond to anti-heroes like Hugh Laurie’s House, or Gordon Ramsay from “Kitchen Nightmares.” They deliver tough news with a sarcastic smirk, but they’re all heart underneath—although buried pretty deep in the case of Jeremy Piven’s Ari in “Entourage.” If the voters need to hear “everbody lies, and it’s not lupus,” or “this food is bloody (expletive) awful,” someone like Biden is just the guy to say it. Heck, the only other person who’d be better than him is Neil Patrick Harris in Barney mode from “How I Met Your Mother.”

With a few tweaks, both campaigns would not only make a better bid for the White House, but they’d kick the rest of the political season into entertainment overdrive.

Then, once the election is over, the entertainment can continue with the time-tested spin-off formula of putting a familiar character into a new setting. An hour-long dramedy, written by Aaron Sorkin, “In The House” will feature long-tracking shots of the winning presidential running the executive branch. Samuel L. Jackson will have a recurring role as Defense Secretary Nick Fury, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will live as wacky roommate neighbors in the ex-prez house, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will reveal himself to be a cyborg politician from the future during sweeps week, and villain Vladimir Putin will play himself.


Entertainment columnist Aaron Sagers writes weekly about all things pop-culture. He can be reached at sagers.aaron AT gmail.com.

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