If you want to know what it is like to win an election, you don’t even have to really get into politics. Just become the star of a TV series and you increase the possibility of running a campaign. You may even win. Many of the most popular characters on TV series have been forwarded as the candidate in a local election. Sometimes they even win. But rarely do those election victories ever result in a change of focus for the TV show.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Such was the gravity of running for office in the 1960s that it took two episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to tell the story of Rob Petrie’s campaign for New Rochelle’s City Council. Rob Petrie may have worked in the midst of the hubbub of the big city, but his family life was all about the suburbs. After showing off his gift of gab in a stirring piece of local political oratory, Rob is approached by handlers to run for City Council. The only problem is that he very quickly discovers the other candidate is far more qualifies. Fortunately for him, the other candidate is played by Wally Cox. The memory of JFK winning his debate against Nixon among those who watched on TV but losing among those who listened on the air hangs heavily but subtly over the outcome of this sitcom election story.
Only on TV could Batman’s umbrella-waving villain the Penguin ever be taken seriously as a candidate, right? Ah, so quickly have you forgotten Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Ted Cruz. Predicting the wild-eyed crazies to not only run for office in real life, but actually get elected and re-elected sometimes, “Hizzoner the Penguin/Dizzoner the Penguin” charts the future course of American elections quite accurately over the course of its two parts. The Penguin realizes that he can do so much more from a criminal perspective if he works within the system than continuing on his path of the outsider in defiance of the law. How to do this? By presenting a public image that is the very opposite of his intention. Present yourself as the ultimate good and caring citizen so that you when you get into office you do everything for yourself. Sound familiar?
WKRP in Cincinnati
If the Penguin represents the evil type of politician like Ted Cruz, then station manager of “WKRP in Cincinnati” represents the Sarah Palin type. None too bright and overcome by delusions of brilliance propagated by an unquestioned belief that everything you were taught as a kid is unvarnished truth. The episode may be titled “Carlson for President” but actually he’s just running the same kind of local office that Rob Petrie aimed for fifteen or so years earlier. Despite being neither as smart nor as telegenic as Rob Petrie, Carlson may actually have an easier go of it. After all, he’s got incontrovertible evidence that his main rival is a drunk. Of course, he vows to stay above this kind of cheap trickery not use the evidence, but one televised debate later as the target of barbs about wearing enough facial makeup to pass for an Oompa-Loompa and the charges of alcoholism just spill out naturally. But will it be enough to ensure his victory over the lush?
You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown
Even the Peanuts gang got in on the election bandwagon in an election-year special that must surely rank among the most disturbingly mistitled TV specials of all time. “You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown” is highly indicative of the expectation that Charlie Brown is one of the candidates running for office. The losing candidate, in fact. The truth is that Charlie Brown is not a candidate. Linus is, however, and who wouldn’t vote for Linus? He’s intelligent, spiritual, empathetic. Unfortunately, he also has this rather serious obsession with an imaginary mythical creature only he believes in called the Great Pumpkin. When the Great Pumpkin becomes part of his campaign speech, will it be enough to ruin a seemingly unbeatable lead in the polls?
The Andy Griffith Show
Here is one of the few examples where an election involving a regular character on a TV show actually resonated in the episodes that followed. Of course, there is the caveat that Sam Jones has only appeared in three episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” prior to the episode featuring the election. On the other hand, Sam’s opponent in the campaign for Mayberry Town Council, Emmett Clark, had appeared in 15 episodes prior to the election. So there was at least the possibility that Emmett might pull off an upset victory. But since the producers were hanging their hopes for continued revenue stream to pour out of Mayberry on the shoulders of Sam Jones as head of town council being an acceptable substitute for Andy Taylor as Mayberry Sheriff. What is perhaps most interesting about the election campaign that officially brings the curtain down on “The Andy Griffith Show” and raises it on “Mayberry R.F.D” is that two of the regular characters on both shows had already teed off against each other in a heated campaign for Mayberry Town Council. So the question that lingers is why didn’t Howard Sprague become the leading character in “Mayberry, R.F.D.” instead of Sam Jones?