Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sen. Fred Thompson v. D.A. Arthur Branch

When Fred Thompson announced he was leaving Law & Order to pursue the presidency of the United States, I laughed. Then when TNT announced they would be pulling episodes from their schedule that featured Thompson prominently as New York district attorney Arthur Branch, I thought they were overreacting to the fact that Thompson was in fact running for the presidency.

Really, as an actor Fred Thompson has played Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Jackson. If Arthur Branch were a real person and not the fictional character he is, he would be the first Republican district attorney of New York since Thomas Dewey. The conservative nature of Thompson is entirely obvious, so what is the point in pulling Law & Order episodes with him in them at this stage of the game?

The point is, Arthur Branch is likable. Unlike the man who plays him, people from both sides of the political spectrum can get behind Branch. Fictionally he is conservative, with little want or respect for any constitutional rights to privacy and usually supports capital punishment. However, unlike most conservatives, he is thoughtful when it comes to abortion rights even though he philosophically does not support women's rights to seek out and have abortions. He doesn't appear to be anti-gay, or at least this is what the episode with him firing ADA Southerlyn would have us believe (the one where Serena asks if she is being fired because she is a lesbian). While serving over Jack McCoy, Branch did little to actually reign McCoy in, despite the liberal tendencies of McCoy. Unlike his alter ego Fred Thompson, Arthur Branch seems to not only understand the political nature of the law, but plays well with others in that political realm. This is no more evident than when ADA Novak subpoenaed Donald Rumsfeld on SVU and Branch flipped his lid. Even then, Branch was likable.

Why is it essential for TNT and NBC to pull re-runs of episodes featuring Fred Thompson? It is simple--Americans watch scripted television far more often than they do the news. The chances of an American catching an episode with Arthur Branch far outnumber the chances of that same American watching the Republican debates with Fred Thompson. Therefore, the chances of an American being tricked into voting for Thompson because they think they're voting for a guy with the political and intellectual integrity of Branch exponentially increase.

If I were voting in the Republican primary and a guy like Arthur Branch were running, I'd vote for him. He would seem the most sensible of the candidates, even without knowing his position on immigration, taxes, or any of the other issues the candidates are ranting about. How could you not vote for a straight-shooting, thoughtful, loyal, intellectual, law (and Constitution) abiding man with a southern drawl and superb one-liners?

Now digest that last sentence again taking into account that Arthur Branch is only a character, carefully scripted and created to be all of those things. Would you vote for a guy playing Branch who is few, if any, of those things? I wouldn't.

When I hear about TNT and NBC pulling episodes from the schedule featuring Fred Thompson as D.A. Arthur Branch on any of the Law & Order franchise shows, I don't laugh any more. It is a serious business, the business of preventing Americans from being hoodwinked into voting for a guy who is nothing like the persona they are acquainted with. At 3 a.m. when I can't sleep and am watching Law & Order re-runs on three different channels, I wouldn't hesitate to vote for Branch. However, I'd be voting for the persona, not the actor who cleverly is hiding behind that persona. TNT and NBC better get cracking.

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