How important is a tweet?
Unfortunately, when it comes to Trump, very. He drives traffic on the social media platform at a higher rate than celebrities with more followers. His off-the-cuff tweets are routinely the subject of press briefings, and covering his stream-of-consciousness rants has driven up ratings of late-night television shows. But in the aftermath of Trump's presidential victory, there seems to be a cold war between the president and scripted television. Save for the occasional one-liner, mentions of Trump are few and far between, and some writers have gone out of their way to mention that their stories aren't directly related to him. But the creators of The Good Fight have been vocal about going back to the writers' room after the election and retooling their plans. This past Sunday’s episode, which dealt with how Trump has the power to affect free speech in creative storytelling, is one of the first on TV to confront Trump's presidency head-on.
You'll have to thank Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for the inspiration. The series penned an episode nearly a year ago about a politician whose career falls apart when he faces multiple rape allegations. According to actor Gary Cole, "All you had to do was read the script and know that it was based on [Trump]." The episode was initially set to air on October 26, but was pushed back to November 16, one week after the election. Following Trump's victory, the episode vanished from NBC's schedule and has yet to be assigned a new airdate. It's not hard to understand NBC's unwillingness to air a television episode that's a veiled takedown of our new president, but it's especially unsurprising given the network's labyrinthine relationship with Trump.
In 2004, the Trump-hosted reality show The Apprentice debuted on NBC. During the lead-up to the election, it was alleged that unaired footage existed of Trump using racist and misogynist terms when berating contestants and staff members. Apprentice producer Mark Burnett refused to release any tapes. The rumors of Apprentice tapes coincided with another NBC and Trump campaign scandal: Recordings from the network's show Access Hollywood surfaced in which Trump openly bragged about sexually assaulting women and how he would "grab them by the pussy."
Despite this, NBC continued its relationship with Trump. Though he parted ways with The Celebrity Apprentice in June (though on whose terms, Trump and NBC haven't been able to agree) amid his comments that Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug-runners, he remained an executive producer on the rebooted version. The subtext of NBC's relationship with Trump became fodder for The Good Fight's latest episode, which borrowed from the Law & Order franchise's habit of "ripped from the headlines" storytelling. In the episode, titled "Stoppable: Requiem for an Airdate" (another reference to the unscheduled SVU episode, which was titled "Unstoppable"), a television network refuses to air a Trump-themed television episode out of fear of retaliation, mirroring NBC's decision to shelve its Trump-themed Law & Order episode. The writer leaks the episode online as a result, and when he's sued for theft, the Good Fight legal team argues that leaking the episode was a political act. The judge is not inclined to agree, until Trump tweets in favor of the network silencing the "Hollywood crybaby" writer. Trump's tweet inadvertently makes the suit a First Amendment case and the writer claims victory.
The Good Fight's creators, Michelle and Robert King, sent a clear message to viewers. Opposition to Trump is not only free speech protected by the First Amendment, but also a necessary political act. The show, which airs on CBS's streaming-only service CBS All Access, took a stance that NBC as a company has so far been unwilling to take, aside from occasional monologues from Seth Meyers and Rachel Maddow. The series is a legal procedural, a form of television that has been maligned in recent years with the rise of critically acclaimed and oft-awarded "prestige dramas" that rely heavily on serialization to tackle important societal issues. But if anything, procedurals have a better chance of affecting the opinions of television viewers.
These are the programs that enter the homes of Americans every single night, making them uniquely positioned to carry out political messages. Historically, shows like The Twilight Zone and Hill Street Blues used procedural elements to comment on racism and xenophobia in America's communities, while the recent success of Shonda Rhimes's shows — which often tackle political, sexual, and religious issues — proves that viewers will tune in to content that not only entertains but challenges them. It's time for networks to put forth more television shows like The Good Fight, rather than mere escapist fare like reboots of ’80s franchises or crime procedurals that rehash the same story lines about violence against women.
In NBC's defense, CBS didn't go balls-out with their takedown of Trump. The network itself has safe, comfortable dramas like Scorpion, MacGyver, and Hawaii Five-0. The Good Fight is on a paid subscription streaming service that allows the swearing, nudity, and story line risk-taking we've come to expect on cable networks. Maybe this episode wouldn't have aired on CBS in the same manner as it did on All Access, but it's more than a step in the right direction for a network looking to compete with existing streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. I've often wondered why CBS, which has an older-skewing audience, would be the first to go with a paid subscription service. But the answer now seems clear: CBS is banking on the notion that younger viewers will be drawn to the same engaging storytelling that exists on their favorite streaming services, but with the flavor of weekly, drop-in-when-you'd-like programming, rather than a bingeable set of 13 episodes released at once.
When Trump tweets, social media goes into a tizzy. The result is a renewed reflection of the power of language. In October, for example, it was not unprecedented to hear news anchors and pundits drop the word "pussy" in reference to Trump's leaked audio recording about his penchant for grabbing privates without permission. Republican strategist Ana Navarro uttered the word on CNN and was immediately admonished by political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes: "Will you please stop saying that word? My daughter is listening." But Navarro rightfully balked. If a presidential candidate, especially one who then went on to claim the presidency, could gleefully talk about assaulting women on tape and brandish the word "pussy" without repercussion, then why should he be the only one allowed to wield language as a weapon? Language is often used as a means to oppress, to define marginalized groups on the speaker's own terms. This is why the creation of one's own dialect can be used as a reclamation of power. The Good Fight has created its own oppositional dialect, and we would all do well to start chewing the fat.