Pop Culture
Pop Culture: Articles for the Scripps Howard News Service & "Seen, Heard, Said"

Why the top-365-songs list isn't a stupid idea

Actors sink their teeth into vampire roles

Gregory Corso: My encounter with a Beat legend

Golden Globes: Sleazy and proud of it

In the offing, Clinton continent looms

"NYPD Blue" opener: The misery continues

 New movie genre: Reclusive authors anonymous

"West Wing," "Ally," et al.: Words, words, words

When TV shows outstay their welcome

Film critics dig their own graves with "Angels" review

Great Robert Altman films you never
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Famous folk, next week in the arts, show business briefs

"Time regained": Proust in the multiplex

Glitterati is dead, long live Popfocus

Carl Barks: The man who put the ducks in Duckburg

"Almost Famous": Lester Bangs rises from the dead

Liz Hurley wins in war of words with Jane mag

Douglas poses with Zeta-Jones, and baby-makes three

Weddings that aren't: Douglas, Zeta-Jones, Madonna, Ritchie

The Emmy War: A half-century of coast-to-coast feuding

Jennifer Love Hewitt plays the Iglesias odds

It's raining books by and about Trumps

What's in a mane? Blond woman in the news

Liz Hurley denies dissing ex-beau

Rock Hall of Infamy: Anti-heroes from Elvis to Eminem

Barbra tix bankrupt fans

Laurels for Kathie Lee to rest on

Hillary "In bed" with De Niro, Cruise, Kidman

How "Sopranos," "West Wing" will divvy up awards

This just in: Donald Trump is not a dope

Walter Matthau: A rumpled old dog in the heart of the city

Sampras to take a stroke at wedding bells

Who wants to host "Monday Night Football"?

Queen rewards Tina Brown for demoralizing American readers

How the Korean War cane to TV land 20 years late

Ivanka Trump: From catwalk to commencement line

Lester Bangs: The troublesome punk who wouldn't die

Rags clash over Ted Turner "romance"

With straight face, Trump deems Marla's move "tacky"

"Friends" re-up for another season of top ratings, top money

Madonna in denial, and rightly so

"Suburbia": The continental subdivide

Howard Stern, Sly Stallone in bizarre, apocryphal triangle

Easter video viewing: "Spartacus" to "Harvey"

Billy’s in the news: Bob, Joel in love but not with other

"Charles's Angels" movie: Dispiriting news for old-time fans

Innovative career move for 'NYPD Blue' co-star

Top model: Why I gave oldish rocker husband the heave-ho

Unpleasantville: The awful truth about old-time TV families

Tina Brown held captive in desert by demanding children

Anybody's Oscar: Unusually suspenseful awards show looms

Oscar telecast: Looking for a few good hosts

"Lambs," "Beauty": Oscar's love affair with unacceptable behavior

Brad Pitt, Oscar to be in same room at same time

Letterman bites guest-host bullet: Andrew "Dice" Clay, call your agent

Seinfeld eyes East Hampton manse: Where's the welcome wagon?

"Mod Squad" Immortal dishes couple du jour

Brad Pitt's second thoughts about Oscar

Mike McCurry praises "West Wing": It's not entirely demeaning,,,"

Memo to "Hannibal" producers: Get Najimy while the getting's good

Don't Invite Gwyneth and Oscar to the same party

True or false: Douglas, Zeta-Jones don't even know each other

Ex-Clinton honcho linked to ex-"Cheers" costar

Third party cited in Trump-Knauss breakup

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20th century's No. 1 hit: "Satisfaction" hits the spot

Statement: Spice girl's marital problems insoluble

Charlie Brown, Pogo and me

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The Beatle George: While his guitar gently weeps

Jodie Foster's people in mild tiff with CBS

A Peanuts trivia Q&A

Publicist: Boyle still joined at hip

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"The future is now": Hit rewind

Whitney Houston presides over confluence of talent

Jim Carrey's flack earns A "D," Cher's A "B-minus"

Geraldo: bye-bye, doghouse

Michael Douglas does nothing much, reporters go wild

Ricky Martin on Menudo: Look back in anger

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Tom Cruise puts himself in harm's way, only not really

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1600-1700: The earth moves; North America is settled

Trump mulls travel plans, from altar to White House

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Brad Pitt gracious about character assassination

Director insists Harrison Ford is not a brainless hulk

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Julia and Benjamin's rings devoid of significance, flack says

Literary mud wrestling, featuring Geri and The Spice Girls

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Spurned by Pitt, Redford pays court to Damon

Celebrity coyness is bustin' out all over

"Detroit Rock City": Kiss of death

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The Beats: Remembered, Lionized and Unread

Real estate beat, starring Woody Allen and Donald Trump

Mood Music, or how we learned to stop worrying

Sex in the cinema: From "Last Tango" to "Eyes Wide Shut"

Two easy steps to looking exactly like Ricky Martin

Close encounters of the Muppet kind

Upcoming Brad Pitt movie not garbage, insiders say

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Back to the future, continued

"Wild Wild West": Buck Rogers in the 19th century

Sculptures by Roy Lichtenstein: Fun, Fun, Fun

An expert's verdict:" Austin Powers" is pretty neat

Click here for pointless celebrity gossip

P. Dempsey Tabler of the jungle: The many faces of Tarzan

Kirk Douglas' Ex tells all about Errol Flynn fling

New twist in TV programming: Ax profitable shows

Private jet fees spell the end for another celebrity union

Killer serials: "Flash," "Buck" and a boy named George Lucas

Top nonfiction books: A message from two old men

Celebrity Dream dreams: Monica, Donald, Barbara, Georgette

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Grande Dame Eyes MGM Grand Gig

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NBC honcho bristles at notion that Brokaw is not a saint

Barbara Walters not keen on daily dose of Monica

"Seen, Heard, Said"

David Letterman, Donald Trump, Eddie Murphy, Elton John

Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Prince Charles, Maj, Ronald Ferguson, Fergie, Miranda Richardson, Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Axl Rose, Stephanie Seymour

February 21, 2000

Mike McCurry praises 'West Wing': 'It's not entirely demeaning...'

By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service

Suppose you worked as White House press secretary during the darkest days of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. What would your favorite TV viewing be, now that the whole sad story is over and you're working in Washington as a media consultant?

"'The West Wing is the only entertainment show I watch," says Mike McCurry "Everything else is CNN or other news programming."

He's referring, of course, to NBC's hit drama about life and love inside a fictitious White House, with Martin Sheen as the commander-in-chief. McCurry freely admits that's what he's glued to every Wednesday night.

It was McCurry's highly unenviable job to run interference between President Clinton and the White House press corps back in the days when his then-employer was living on denials that he had had "sexual relations with that woman." So it makes sense that a TV series about personality conflicts and political pragmatism in and around the Oval Office would speak to him, if not send him screaming into the night.

"It lends a human dimension to people in politics," McCurry says of the show. "Usually elected officials are portrayed on TV as dastardly guys with black helicopters in the desert. But the characters in 'The West Wing' are drawn with sophistication and accuracy. It's not entirely demeaning to people in politics. And the plot lines are pretty accurate, too."

Accurate plot lines? For instance, when it turns out Sheen's president suffers from a form of multiple sclerosis, unbeknownst not only to the electorate but to his closest advisers?

"Well, that's a little farfetched," McCurry admits. "And yet it does remind me of the excruciating experience I went through when the president had a ruptured knee tendon.”

Of course, it’s not as though series' creator and writer, Aaron Sorkin, were making all this stuff up out of whole cloth. He's got experienced individuals like Dee Dee Myers (McCurry's predecessor in the press secretary's job); Patrick Cadell, one of President Carter's main men; and Lawrence O'Donnell, a longtime go-to guy for Sen. Patrick Moynihan, closely advising him on matters of verisimilitude.

The series' main shortfall when it comes to accuracy is the way in which the workplace setting is portrayed, according to McCurry.

"It's a wildly improbable set," says McCurry, who agrees with veteran White House reporters that most of the people comprising the perennial "ER"-style mob scene in "The West Wing's" corridors would in truth be working next door at the Old Executive Office Building.

"There really aren't that many young, underemployed people in the West Wing of the White House - not even under Bill Clinton," McCurry laughs. "And people aren't so clipped and brisk. They aren't in that much of a hurry all the time."

McCurry says that some of the show's minor details, by contrast, are uncannily accurate.

"The striping you see on the couches in the show's Oval Office is identical to the striping on the couches in Bill Clinton's Oval Office," he says. "And the ID tags people wear around their necks are an exact rip-off of the real tags. Except big guys like the chief of staff wouldn't wear them."

McCurry thinks the show has a pretty truthful feel for what goes on between the White House and the press, "although actually that feeling tends to be a bit more combustive in real life."

How about the story where the press secretary (Allison Janney) smooches with a top reporter (Timothy Buslleld, formerly of "Thirtysomething"), right there in her West Wing office?

McCurry just laughs. "No."

McCurry also opines that the TV president's close nucleus - John Spencer as the chief of staff, Bradley Whitford as his deputy, Richard Schiff as director of communications, Rob Lowe as his No. 2 man, and Dule Hill as the young African American fellow who serves as the president's personal aide - is made up of "an improbable collection of job titles."

"But where it's true to life is in the feeling that these are the people who helped him get elected," McCurry says. "To that extent, I'm sure it's very close to what Dee Dee experienced. And it's also probably pretty close to Pat Cadell's experience with Carter back in the '70s."

One recent episode involved a series of gaffes made by the staff during the president's absence, culminating in a scene in which a sleep-deprived Sheen goes into a priceless slow burn while being briefed on the problems by his hesitant, apologetic underlings.

"They wouldn't be that hangdog," McCurry observes. "And they already would have their plans in motion to make everything right."

Obviously, the African American "personal aide to the president" is a piece of dramatic license, one might think.

"No, there is such a job," McCurry says. "And it's a hard, hard job. They take it a little bit far. He wouldn't go right into the president's bedroom to wake him up for a meeting. But he would be the one to call him on the phone to wake him up. And he breaks up meetings and gets the president onto airplanes. It's a very hands-on job."

A hands-on job filled, as in the show, by a guy who just happens to come to the front desk looking for a job as a messenger?

"Well, no," McCurry says. "In fact, Bill Clinton has had a whole series of personal aides, and it's a very highly coveted job - coveted by intense career-path type young men. And I can't remember that any of them have been African American."

Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News Service.

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