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Analysis: 'K Street' ready for close-up?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter   |   Sept. 12, 2003 at 4:33 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- "K Street," the new HBO series about Washington power brokers, won't be on TV until Sunday, but lots of people already have the series pegged as a liberal screed against conservative politics.

The series is being produced by a team that includes Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh and former "ER" star George Clooney. Plans call for 10 half-hour episodes, featuring a blend of professional actors and actual political figures in largely improvised performances intended as a sendup of the games political insiders play in the nation's capital.

The show -- named for the Washington, D.C., street where the lobbying business is largely headquartered -- is scheduled to premiere Sunday evening.

In an effort to give the show immediacy, producers established a production schedule that will test their stamina as well as their professional skills. Filming for each episode will not even begin until the Monday before its air date, with Thursday and Friday of each week set aside for editing the footage down to a coherent 30 minutes.

Producers have an ambitious goal -- to leave viewers wondering whether they are watching a documentary or a work of fiction. But some sketpics on the right are convinced that Soderbergh, Clooney and company have another agenda -- to present one-sided, liberal political arguments -- even though the cast of political pros involved in the show includes leading Republican image makers Mary Matalin and Michael Deaver.

The staff also includes several conservative political pros whose talents are better known "inside the Beltway" than to the public at large, such as Stuart Stevens, who worked on George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

For the most part, the characterization of "K Street" as a liberal show is grounded in Clooney's reputation for political liberalism -- a rap he won't even try to beat.

"I'm a Democrat," Clooney told the Washington Post. "I'm a liberal. I grew up a liberal, I can't shake it."

The show also features Matalin's husband, former Clinton White House spin specialist James Carville. Although some skeptics are convinced Carville's liberalism will crowd his wife's conservatism, Carville told United Press International the show's producers wouldn't even guarantee his point of view a place in the final cut of each episode.

"Guarantees in politics?" he said. "Or in Washington? What does that mean?"

Deaver -- best known for his work as an image maker in the Reagan administration -- told the New York Times it is his understanding that the show will not have either a liberal or conservative agenda.

"It's hard to find someone with a conservative or even moderate view in Hollywood," he said, "but I liked that Soderbergh's attitude was: I don't want an agenda. I want to show how it works."

Like "The West Wing" and other politics-themed entertainment shows, "K Street" is employing seasoned political consultants to help promote authenticity. The show's staff includes Jon Macks, a co-producer on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" who has worked on political campaigns for such politicians as U.S. Sens. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) and Herb Kohl (D-Minn.), and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus.

He told UPI critics are way off base to accuse the show of carrying a partisan bias of any kind.

"They're completely wrong," he said. "This is not about partisan poltics. This is about power -- the acquisition of power, how it is wielded and how it affects people's lives."

The political process relies so heavily, if not desperately, on marketing techniques -- such as polling, focus groups and an obsession with market share to shape campaign messages -- that elections have, in many ways, become virtually indistinguishable from Madison Avenue's cola wars. Macks said there is one major difference, however.

"(Candidates) have to get 51 percent of the vote by a certain date," he said. "When Pepsi and Coke go back and forth, yes they have to get a certain share, but the war is never ending."

To give you an idea of the influence of money in politics, Carville -- who has helped elect both presidents and prime ministers -- is now shilling for Captain Morgan in California's gubernatorial recall race. Yes, that Captain Morgan -- the one from the rum ads.

Carville said it was a simple matter of party politics.

"The captain and I think you ought to have more parties," he said.

This is not the first time the captain has run for political office. Carville said the character ran for president in 2000, with the Playboy Playmate of the Year as his running mate.

If "K Street" turns out to be the kind of fun, entertaining TV show that Soderbergh and Clooney have in mind, there is a chance that it could just as easily have a trivializing effect on its subject matter as an enlightening one. Carville said he wouldn't worry too much about that.

"Remember, it's just a TV show," he said. "Take a deep breath and remember that it's not a college course in politics and it's not an election."

The show will feature appearances by actual political figures in Washington. Producers will likely pursue such high-profile figures as Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) to show up on camera. For less well-known D.C.-area political pros -- or even those who just look like they belong on Gucci Gulch -- Carlyn Davis Casting of Falls Church, Va., is currently casting extras for "K Street."

According to the casting notice, you need to be a member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and you need to be available to work any time between now and mid-November.

"We are looking for all types," said the notice, "particularly Corporate types and folks on the street (vendors, business types, tourists, diner patrons, drivers, etc.)"

You also have to be willing to work for scale -- $90 per day.

Hardly the kind of money that seems to be the main attraction on the real K Street.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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