The New TV Drama: As The White House Turns

May 20, 2017
Originally published on May 20, 2017 9:38 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The latest must-see TV are apparently White House press briefings. People are tuning in in record numbers. NPR's Vanessa Romo checked in with some young viewers and asked them, why are you watching?

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: Soap operas are out. White House press briefings - super in. As early as February, ratings for the daily updates, usually hosted by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, were eclipsing "General Hospital" and "The Bold And The Beautiful." Turns out, people can't look away. And here is what their eyeballs are glued to.

DANIEL KURZYNA: Basically, Sean Spicer's thrown to the mill by not only his boss but also by the media. It's almost like a "Fear Factor"-type show where you kind of just want to watch and see what happens.

ROMO: That's NYU grad student Daniel Kurzyna. He's a Republican and he says, unlike what he called the boring briefings of the Obama administration, the Sean Spicer show is must-watch TV, even if Kurzyna is away from an actual TV.

KURZYNA: If I'm not at home, I'll turn on YouTube on my phone right to the White House YouTube page.

ROMO: The 28-year-old doesn't expect actual policy information. He's watching for the infotainment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN SPICER: I believe that we have to be honest with the American people. I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may not fully understand when we come out, but our intention's never to lie to you, Jonathan.

ROMO: Michaela Kurinsky-Malos is on the opposite side of the country, on the opposite side of the political spectrum. She's consuming...

MICHAELA KURINSKY-MALOS: As many press briefings as the stomach can handle.

ROMO: The sophomore at the University of Oregon watches with a bit of schadenfreude. And the recent chaos surrounding the administration fuels her own work as an activist.

KURINSKY-MALOS: I don't want to be too enthusiastic, but it definitely is a space for us to fight back and win back the House and win back the presidency.

ROMO: Still, she says...

KURINSKY-MALOS: There is a very thin line between being entertained and being disgusted.

ROMO: So why is America watching?

MICHAEL CORNFIELD: Well, here I do have some data.

ROMO: Say hello to Michael Kornfield. He teaches politics at George Washington University.

CORNFIELD: We looked at how many times the top people in the Trump White House were tweeted during the first hundred days. And after Trump himself, Sean Spicer is the second most tweeted person - 10 million tweets. Which is to say, he has become a celebrity, but he's not a celebrity in a positive way.

ROMO: And just like that TV villain you obsessively hate-watch, audiences are hooked.

CORNFIELD: And I think the fascination that has created the daytime serial that we might call the Sean Spicer show is, is he going to crack? Either in the way that he'll say something that he shouldn't, and then get fired, or is he going to erupt and explode at the press corps? So there is a tremendous and perversely appealing tension.

ROMO: That tension was heightened after Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders filled in for Spicer last week. And then Trump said this about the future of the press room daytime drama...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I actually said we shouldn't have them.

ROMO: So fans and non-fans might be losing their favorite character. Let's hope it's not an ambiguous "Sopranos" ending. Vanessa Romo, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEFAN AEBY TRIO'S "IUK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.