why ‘The West Wing’ is the perfect antidote to the ‘The Thick of it’

When it comes to great TV shows The West Wing takes some beating. And whilst it is of course fictional, it is littered with comms and PR case studies.

By Alex Ross

The polls are still open in the US Presidential Election as I write this, but it should be all over by the time you read it. 

Before the results come in and to recreate the tension and behind-the-scenes excitement, my wife and I did what we usually do…flicked between the finale of The West Wing and live election night coverage.

And do you know what?  It’s pretty hard to separate fiction from reality.

But unlike the depressingly accurate depiction of ‘how it is’ in The Thick of It, The West Wing still shows us ‘how it should be’ in government communications – driven by ambition, innovation, a desire to change the world for the better.

Okay, so it was made before social media and smartphones, but focusing on channels misses the point.

The West Wing depicts a world where great communications make a difference and where great communicators are trusted, influential advisers to the most powerful person in the world.

I would challenge any communications professional to watch it and fail to be moved by the power of the prose, rhetoric and word-play that runs throughout, and which comes to the fore in key speeches or moments of crisis.

And I’d challenge them not to warm to the passion of the lead characters for the issues on which they work – and their desire to use communications to further good causes.

If that’s not enough, it teaches us about leadership, hard decisions and game-play at the highest level-  in which Josh, Toby, CJ and Sam excel.

Those who’ve never handled media or communications in an emergency should watch it for the (pretty accurate) insight it provides on the handling of issues, crises, incidents in the top echelons of power.

And if that still doesn’t tempt you, watch it for the comedy and love interest! 

Twelve years on, the scripts, situations and issues remain as relevant as ever and, let’s face it, public sector communicators need to draw on every source of inspiration they can get at present.

And remember – this was the series that foresaw the selection of an inspiring orator as the first non-white Democratic Presidential candidate. And then went on to televise a down-to-the-wire election as its finale. Art imitating life again.

But, hey, you have seven series to enjoy before that.  For £10 on ebay, you can buy almost every episode.  For a new Presidency and cold winter nights, it’s still compulsive viewing.

Alex Ross is Head of Media and Corporate Communications at The Environment Agency

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