Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Red Flag Over A White Tie on "The West Wing"

Show That Prides Itself On Getting The Details Right, Makes A Flub That's Sure To Send Political Junkies Fuming
OK, first things first, this is TV. But we're also talking about "The West Wing," which has gone to great lengths in keeping it real, or at least giving us a brilliant facsimile of the look and feel of real.
Often, the characters sound like they know what they're talking about, and maybe they actually do. That involves a lot of homework by the writers and producers, which has been evident in the show's resurgence this season.
But snappy writing with sly references that few in the audience will latch onto (e.g. the throwaway by Josh about "Monster Chiller Horror Theatre" that was an SCTV staple) isn't enough. It's the details that don't take a lot to get right.
So, the centerpiece of Sunday's episode had both presidential candidates attending the Al Smith Dinner in New York, a real event that's a must for any major-office hopeful that's a major fundraiser for Catholic charities.
As it was described on West Wing, it's the biggest "non-political political event" around. And it's also one where men where a white tie with their tux. Old-fashioned, quaint, even, but that's the way it is, and woe to the attendee who tries otherwise.
Yet, everyone descending upon the event on the show was wearing black tie. An off-day for the prop master? Was the wardrobe guy on a break? Did the production designer assume the average American would get confused by a white tie?
Whatever the answer, it's unavailing. Paying heed to this minor but necessary detail would have taken so little effort, and it's disappointing "The West Wing" chose to take the expedient way out.
It's sort of like the "Law and Order" franchise, where the cops visit suspects at addresses that any New Yorker would know would have to be in a river because the number is too high. It's not hard for a little reality and dramatic license to co-exist. You just have to work at it. "The West Wing" usually does.
But such are the hazards of the trade when you write about New York and you're based in California, which is where the "Law and Order" writers ply their craft. And it shows.

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