Suckers that we are, we always believed that Hollywood had secret influence on the White House. We knew that the president routinely called Steven Spielberg for advice. We knew that movie stars could show up at the White House gate and gain entrance simply by flashing their gleaming million-dollar teeth. Jack Valenti, Alec Baldwin, Ron Silver, Warren Beatty--they were as omnipresent at state dinners as the Secret Service.
Now we know we had the whole thing backward. The Hollywood "influence" was just the smoke screen. The hideous truth: The White House runs the entertainment industry.
TV shows. Movies. The hairstyles and cosmetic surgery options of the stars. All this comes straight out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. That tough, no-nonsense, always-savvy president played by Martin Sheen on "The West Wing" is not inspired by President Clinton--he's written by him.
Slap me if I imagined this: A movie called "Air Force One" has terrorists taking over the president's plane--only to be thwarted by the tough-as-nails, Ramboesque president himself. Clearly, a script straight from the Oval Office.
We also are forced to recall the movie "The American President." The president is a widower, and so he gets to date around. Do you see a certain someone's fingerprints all over that one?
Now we know what the White House staff has been doing for the past seven years, other than answering subpoenas. Who has time to work on campaign finance reform when you're under the gun to finish a script for "The Drew Carey Show"? Could you have anticipated the Kosovo invasion if you were also working out the syndication rights for "Ally McBeal"?
The official story so far is that this is just an attempt to get anti-drug messages on the airwaves. Salon, the online magazine, disclosed this week that the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy has been reviewing scripts and advance footage of such TV shows as "ER" and "Cosby." The networks were given financial incentives worth millions of dollars to put anti-drug messages in their shows.
But you know that's just the start of it. This White House is shameless in its deal-making and spin-doctoring. It understands that everything has a price--a night in the Lincoln Bedroom, coffee with the president, the dialogue in "Touched by an Angel." Almost certainly it has offered Hollywood an entire menu of plot devices, character developments and scripted messages, each with its own financial incentive:
* $1,000: Reference to first lady as "beautiful and incredibly senatorial."
* $2,000: Allusion to President Clinton's "intelligence, charm and pantherish animal vigor."
* $3,000: On "NYPD Blue," Andy Sipowicz goes through trailer park with a $10 bill and turns up someone named "Paula Jones."
* $4,000: Minor character named "Mr. Gore" discovers way to use Internet to repair Antarctic ozone hole.
* $5,000: On new version of "Perry Mason," a character named "Mr. Starr" always loses to Mr. Mason.
* $10,000: "Mr. Starr" is held in contempt of court and is thrown into "Oz" prison.
* $30,000: Very bad, hard-to-watch things happen to "Mr. Starr" in "Oz" prison and he confesses under duress that he is part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
* $50,000: On "The X-Files," aliens make illegal campaign contributions to the Republican National Committee.
* $100,000: Lunatic politician named "Speaker Gingrich" revealed as person who shot down Col. Henry Blake's plane on "M*A*S*H."
* $1 million: Remake of "Titanic" in which pushy ship executive named "George W. Bush" elbows aside women and children and sneaks onto lifeboat.
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