Peter Bart: Hollywood Might Need To Re-Think Its Agenda & Casting Choices Amid Nation’s Political Ambiguity

The “what if?” game has always fascinated me: What if Donald Trump had been cast in Shark Tank rather than The Apprentice (it was Mark Burnett’s call)? He likely would have been broke rather than president.

I cite this to remind readers that Hollywood plays a role in our politics as well as in our pop culture, and hence the town would do well to heed the cultural shift reflected in this week’s election results. The audience is changing — will movies and TV change accordingly?

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Hollywood power players once prided themselves in their ability to manipulate political power. Lew Wasserman and his allies helped invent former SAG president Ronald Reagan as a political force, and Reagan returned the favor on many levels.

Hollywood hung out in the Clinton White House, but Trump never even ran a movie there (at least Nixon kept re-running Patton).

The Kennedys relished their cool relationships with Hollywood inner circle until they realized the perils.

Wasserman once said that while Hollywood had mastered the skills of casting its movies, Democrats couldn’t learn how to cast their candidates.

He couldn’t believe that George McGovern was the choice to oppose a vulnerable Nixon, who ended up winning 61% of the popular vote (the electoral vote was 520-17). McGovern’s vice presidential nominee had to withdraw because he’d undergone electroshock therapy.

Will this week’s baffling election shifts be mirrored in the TV or film product? Washington produced the most impactful TV show of 2022 in its investigation of the January 6 insurrection, but now it might release the stage to Rep. Jim Jordan’s recycled impeachment hearings.

The pundits are asking themselves: What accounts for shifting moods? To David Brooks, the esteemed columnist of The New York Times, the answer Is clear-cut. “The gap between the college and non-college communities continues to grow,” he wrote. “America must face the fact of class war.”

J.D. Vance, who won a Senate seat Tuesday, gave a speech declaring that “universities are our enemy.” Before politics, Vance went to Yale with Ron DeSantis but, unlike the Florida governor, has yet to declare war on Disney World.

I once tried to propound Brooks’ theory by fostering a movie titled Being There, in which Peter Sellers played a presidential prospect whose principal appeal was total ignorance (I was president of Lorimar at the time).

When newsmen plied him with questions about wars and recessions, Sellers’ character, Chauncey Gardiner, would respond with vague analogies to the state of his garden. He was, by trade, a gardener, before being conscripted into politics as a soldier for the cause of ambiguity.

The problem: Hal Ashby, the director, came to me in mid-production with the question: How do we end this movie? His solution: Peter Sellers walked on water.

Donald Trump might give it a try, but it may be too late.

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