The fall TV season and the presidential race

Just as I did in 2000, I thought it might be worthwhile to see what the new season's crop of shows might have to say about the presidential election.

Some signs are a bit bleak for the incumbent. Last year, fresh off the apparently accomplished mission in Iraq, war on terror-themed shows like: "Jake 2.0" and "Threat Matrix" suggested a can-do, optimistic application of American know-how and energy to a seemingly soluble program. This year, both of those shows are gone from the networks' schedules. There don't seem to be any replacements.

Additionally, one of the most-talked-about new shows of the year, "Lost," seems to perfectly sum up all the concerns and anxieties of the American public: a group of people stuck in a horrific situation they have no control over through no fault of their own, surrounded on all sides by vague threats.

Generally, though, American networks are following the president's mandate of dealing with the country's problems by not thinking about them at all: candy-colored escapism is in this year, with exotic locales like "North Shore" and "Hawaii" making a prominent appearance on the dial, and "Clubhouse", which trades on an essential male fantasy: close proximity to a major league baseball team. (And given how prominently Bush's throwing out that post-9/11 first pitch featured in his RNC video, he's got to be feeling good about a new baseball show on the airwaves.)

And then there's "Jack and Bobby", which seems to suggest that a misfit boy with a complicated history of drugs in the family can grow up to be president: all those Bush supporters who go a little wobbly when they think about his National Guard service in the Seventies can rest easy.

The most dangerous sign for John Kerry, though, is the general lack of novelty in the networks' television programming. After the breakthrough success of "The Apprentice," now we have Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban playing Donald Trump in "The Benefactor", and Richard Branson slotted to play the same role in a mid-season replacement show.

There are two reality boxing shows, a third "CSI" and, we hear, a fourth "Law and Order" coming later. Even shows that aren't precisely clones are pretty much more of the same: NBC's "Medical Investigation," for example, a Frankenstinian combination of "CSI" and "ER", and "Joey", though mathematically only a sixth of "Friends", is trying its best to capture some of that success.

Will the general inertia of the entertainment industry - an inertia which seems to have grown much worse in recent years - reflect an unwillingness to change horses in the middle of an increasing muddy stream? We won't know until November 2 (or, if recent history is any indication, some time after that).

For now, though, we can enjoy some of the dubious delights the new season has to offer: blink and you'll almost certainly miss "Listen Up" or "Father of the Pride," for example.

Though we're near the end of the presidential campaign season, we're only in New Hampshire and Iowa on the dial, and there are a good number of Carol Moseley Brauns and Dennis Kuciniches that are going to fall by the wayside, too. For now, I'm going to go vote - there has to be a reality show that wants my position on one of their candidates.

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