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Trump’s presidency is already beginning to have an effect on scripted TV

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From sitcoms to political dramas

Kiefer Sutherland in Designated Survivor ABC

Ever since Donald Trump was elected to be the United States’ 45th president, there have been reports about how it will affect various industries, from Silicon Valley to the NFL. Since the election, numerous showrunners have also admitted that they were having conversations with their writing staffs to discuss how their own shows will address the changing political climate the country is now facing.

Shows like Designated Survivor, The Good Fight, Quantico and Black-ish are just some of a few shows that are preparing to address the divide occurring between American citizens right now and how the election has polarized the country even more. Many of the showrunners, who aren’t trying to hide their political beliefs, are scared of what the future holds, like much of the country. Many creators and writers are turning to their craft to reflect what’s happening while trying to make sense of it all.

"We need to be examining each other as a country and as a society," Kenya Barris, creator of Black-ish, told Complex. "I definitely feel like the future is at stake. It’s not about money or having success, it’s about having a voice."


Barris isn’t a stranger to taking the national conversation of the moment and using it as a storyline in his shows. One of the best episodes the show’s ever had, and one of the most praised by critics, focused on police brutality in America. Barris used a multigenerational black family to start a conversation about the past, present and future of the country for minorities, focusing on the emotional weight that he was feeling about the conflicts at the time.

Although Black-ish is a sitcom, Barris uses every episode to bring up a topical issue facing the country, and told Complex that it was important now more than ever to continue doing that and bringing to light serious concerns for the millions of people who tune in to watch every week.

He’s not the only one with strong feelings about how television showrunners can help create conversation. The writers of Designated Survivor, which focuses on a low-level Cabinet member who ascends to the presidency after everyone above him in the line of succession is killed in a terrorist attack, also have plans to tackle Trump's election on the show, also has plans to use its space on television to bring up Trump’s election.

"We need to be examining each other as a country and as a society"

Showrunner Jon Harmon Feldman told The Hollywood Reporter that in a way, the show had already begun to address the changing attitudes in America and the political divide that had been growing for years. Feldman said that it was an unfortunately true reality that the country is split into two camps, both politically and culturally, and that was a deeply unsettling thing to see happening.

"I think this idea of America, that feeling without too much more provocation can start to schism into two Americas, is incredibly compelling and I think borne out by the election, and indicative of a direction we want to go with the show: to explore the fragility that I think exists in America culturally and politically right now," Feldman said.

The fragility that Feldman is talking about is a major point of concern and frustration for citizens, but for showrunners Robert and Michelle King, it makes for prime storytelling. The two creators, best known for their Emmy Award-winning series, The Good Wife, are preparing to launch their spinoff, The Good Fight. The show, which will be available to stream on CBS All Access, will look at the fact that America is getting ready to "possibly [be] accepting of a cruder culture" under a Trump administration.

"With Trump and the cultural shifts we’re seeing we’re really excited — there’s a strong rationale for the show," Robert King told Variety.

Although the election of Trump has led to showrunners deciding they’re going to use their medium to address the conversation happening around the country, it’s in no way anything new.

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Norman Lear used his beloved and award-winning series All in the Family to address the Nixon administration, the Watergate scandal, human rights issues and the rise of feminism in America. Aaron Sorkin used The West Wing, widely regarded as one of the best political dramas, to talk about the change from a Democratic-led country under a Clinton administration to the election of George W. Bush. Following the events of September 11th, the show also addressed the changing climate in America and how the country was operating.

The most common theme that showrunners seem interested in and focused on bringing into their series is the growing divide among the right and the left on the political spectrum. It’s not a new topic, but under a Trump administration and the rapid rise of the alt-right movement, it’s become one of the most important.

In the pilot episode of The Newsroom, another Sorkin show, Republican anchor Will McAvoy is talking to his very liberal producer MacKenzie McHale about the growing separation between the left wing and the right. At one point, he refers to a report that proves the country is in one of its most divisive time periods since it was formed — a line that was backed up by a popular report that came out a year later in 2013 — and says that’s the reason for the political turmoil.

"Social scientists have concluded that the country is more polarized now than at any time since the Civil War," McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, said.

That line seems to be reverberating around the internet this week more than ever before, and clearly, showrunners feel the same way.