The Best Show on Television
Jude Wanniski
January 21, 2003


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: “Mr. Sterling”

I’ve only seen the first two episodes of “Mr. Sterling,” which airs Friday nights on NBC at 8 p.m. [EST], but so far in my opinion it is easily this season’s best show. Of course, I’m a political guy and would naturally be more drawn to a show about a freshman United States Senator, which is all I knew it would be about when I tuned in two Fridays ago. In recent years it has been difficult to find anything that could compete in prime time with the old movies Patricia and I watch on TCM and TNT, etc. that is, until a friend suggested I watch “The West Wing,” another popular NBC series related to Larry O'Donnell. O’Donnell was one of the creators of “The West Wing” and is now the creator and author of “Mr. Sterling” and its scripts. I had been impressed with the “authenticity” of “The West Wing,” as I know the west wing of the White House pretty well, having been in and out at least a hundred times over the last 40 years as a reporter or as a private citizen.

I’ve known Larry O’Donnell casually for perhaps four years, although I did actually interview him maybe 15 or 20 years ago when he was chief of staff to the Senate Finance Committee when it was chaired by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. That being said, it was only when I watched these two episodes of “Mr. Sterling” that I realized O’Donnell is not just the garden variety executive producer on network television, and not even the occasional heavy-hitter. He is an authentic Superstar!! When he brought tears to my old eyeballs at the end of the second episode last Friday I knew this guy had a talent that not only could replicate the authenticity of the action that takes place in the United States Senate, but who was deep down a political philosopher with very definite ideas on how to tell a story that could connect with the entire American Electorate about what kind of country we would like our country to be.

The first episode sets the stage, as a Democratic U.S. Senator from California dies and the governor fills the vacancy with the son of a former popular governor, William Sterling. The governor does this with the idea that junior would serve his time and would then give way to his own son in the next election. Mr. Sterling Jr., who teaches high school in a prison, agrees to take the seat, but upon arriving in Washington announces he really has no party affiliation and will serve as an Independent. Instead of being treated as raw meat by the political establishment, Mr. Sterling is suddenly courted frantically by Republicans and Democrats, as the balance of power is at a knife edge because the Senate is evenly divided.

Okay, if that’s all there is to it, “Mr. Sterling” is just a grown-up soap opera. But what O'Donnell does in several strands of story line that connect in the second episode is present us with the man we would all like to be President of the United States right now. I’ve gone on the Internet and found several reviewers making fun of the show, because that’s what reviewers in little papers are paid to do. They essentially argue that it would be impossible for someone like Mr. Sterling to exist on Capitol Hill today and this is all improbable silly stuff, a Senator who really thinks and acts for himself instead of kissing the behinds of the Party Leaders and the fundraisers and the pollsters, etc.

I’d been told that Josh Brolin, the stepson of Barbra Streisand, was not much of an actor, but so far I think he has been excellent in the lead role. What I hope will now happen is that the one hundred US Senators now taking up space in the world’s greatest deliberative body watch the show. It is not a good time for the younger set, Friday night at 8 pm, but it may be prime time for United States Senators, home at last at the end of a grueling week of meeting with fundraisers and pollsters. This show may turn out to be more than just entertainment. It could have a real impact on the way our government conducts itself. Tune in. If you don’t like it, let me know. And if you do, let me know as well. I’ll collect the cards and pass them on to Mr. Sterling.