On the bulletin board above my computer is an autographed 8-by-10-inch color glossy of Martin Sheen. He's decked out as the fictional President Josiah Bartlet — the picture of rolled-up shirt sleeved power, resolutely perched on his Oval Office desk.
Whenever I feel alienated from and disappointed with real-world politics, this photograph, or rather the idealized "West Wing" world it represents, provides a (temporary) source of comfort.
And I'm not alone in my dissatisfaction with government. In fact, a January 2014 Gallup poll reported that 65 percent of Americans feel the same way, the highest percentage in Gallup's trend since 2001.
It's been more than 14 years since Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing" premiered on NBC's Wednesday-night lineup but, according to Vanity Fair's Juli Weiner, "given the currency it still seems to enjoy in Washington, the frequency with which it comes up in D.C. conversations and is quoted or referenced on political blogs," people don't realize the final episode aired on May 14, 2006.
"In part," Weiner continues, "this is because the smart, nerdy — they might prefer ‘precocious' — kids who grew up in the early part of the last decade worshipping the cool, technocratic charm of Sorkin's characters have today matured into the young policy prodigies and press operatives who advise, brief and excuse the behavior of the most powerful people in the country."
CBS is hoping that "Madam Secretary," which premiered Sunday, will do the same for future female diplomats.
Téa Leoni plays cleverly-written Elizabeth McCord, a former CIA analyst who jettisons her career in academia when an old pal (Keith Carradine as President Conrad Dalton) asks her to pick up the reins at the State Department.
Her first crisis involves two "stupid kids" who travel to the Mideast, are seized by militants and threatened with death. The parallel with recent Isla
mic State executions is impossible to ignore.
But don't look for any similarities between McCord and Olivia Pope ("Scandal") or Claire Underwood ("House of Cards") or even (probable) presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"Considering that secretary of state is surely one of the least glamorous positions in the federal government," writes Kevin Drum in Mother Jones, "it's pretty hard not to see this as a fairly transparent attempt to make Hillary look like presidential timber."
"It's a TV show, right," asks actor Tim Daly, who plays the husband of Leoni's character. He claims that the primary purpose of the show is to entertain people — not to make a documentary to support Hillary Clinton's supposed run for the presidency.
Echoing Daly, writer Barbara Hall ("Homeland") admitted that while Clinton might have served as inspiration in the early stages, many other politicians — both male and female — ultimately shaped the McCord persona.
Leoni, who named her daughter Madelaine after Madeleine Albright, told the Fresno Bee that McCord was based on "Madeleine Albright's fierce diplomacy and wit, mixed with Hillary's charm and dynamic womanhood. And, it's also Condoleezza Rice's courage, intelligence — and legs."
Of course, being accused of favoring Clinton's candidacy under the guise of providing entertainment remains a sore spot for several networks.
In 2005, conservative groups claimed that "Commander in Chief" (Geena Davis) was a thinly veiled attempt by ABC to smooth the way for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid in 2008.
Then, of course, last year the Republican National Committee and other conservative groups lobbied successfully to prevent NBC from proceeding with a miniseries starring Diane Lane as Mrs. Clinton. In addition, CNN was also persuaded to abandon a green-lit documentary on Hillary as well.
In a Salt Lake Tribune interview, executive producer Lori McCreary ("Invictus") said "Madame Secretary" was the answer to such questions as "What's life like for the secretary of state," who has to balance "an incredibly heavy workload with a personal life? And how do you even plan a single moment of your life, a baseball game, when at any minute you could be dealing with rocket attacks in Israel, a military coup in Pakistan and a border crisis with Mexico?"
The ability of "The West Wing" to propel optimistic young people into politics was all the more remarkable given the countless political scandals hogging the headlines from 1999 to 2006. The show reminded fans that while government may be overpriced, glacially inefficient and inundated in unscrupulous power-grabbers, some folks in Washington are actually trying to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, the glass ceiling in the real Oval Office has yet to be penetrated. For Morgan Freeman, who also serves as an executive producer on "Madam Secretary," the best thing about his show is what happens when a principled female is put in a position with some say-so.
Apparently, sparks fly and people can't help but keep on watching.
I might need to make room for Téa Leoni on my bulletin board as well.
Beverly Kelley writes a biweekly column for The Star. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.