Television: The New Capitol Gang

Once a prime-time pariah, government is hot. But will viewers vote with their remotes?

As far as TV was concerned, there were once three branches of government: lawyers, judges and hard-nosed cops who played by their own set of rules. Otherwise, government was ratings death. "The feeling was, once you got into Washington and politics," says Aaron Sorkin, creator-writer of The West Wing, "you knew your audience was going to be cut in half."

Then in 1999, nine months after President Clinton's impeachment, Sorkin's White House drama debuted on NBC. The aides were sexy, honorable and smart. The President was a folksy Nobel laureate with touches of F.D.R., Stephen Hawking, Will Rogers and the...

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