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Comey Testimony: TV Showrunners Explain Why This Was an Episode Open to Interpretation

Without the bombshell that some had hoped for, this Senate hearing proved we all look for different things while this political drama unfolds.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (8860767c)Fired FBI director James Comey is sworn in before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in WashingtonComey, Washington, USA - 08 Jun 2017

James Comey


As with many steps in the unfolding FBI saga, former bureau director James Comey’s Senate hearing Thursday had frequently been compared to a piece of scripted drama. After the public portion of the hearing had concluded, it lacked the definitive, certain amount of finality that some had hoped may magically appear.

READ MORE: James Comey Hearing: Late Night TV Reminds Us There’s No Silver Bullet For Trump Presidency

So, with another chapter closed in the continuing political quagmire that the ongoing investigation presents, some of the people charged with making scripted TV themselves took to Twitter to comment on the Comey hearing as it unfolded. The result was a group that, like the American public and global audience as a whole, each took away a different lesson from what many were anticipating as an important TV event in the early summer.

Much has been made over the past few weeks about whether or not this investigation has labeled any suspects or persons of interest. Before the hearing started, “The Wire” creator and former crime reporter David Simon reiterated the idea that these terms, often tossed around in fictionalized versions of TV and film, carry special meaning in an ongoing investigation. In a thread, Simon explained that these words matter and that using them at particular times is a sensitive decision.

When the actual hearing started, many in the industry pointed out how viewpoints can influence how viewers and citizens can interpret these public sessions. Although the President did not use social media as a way to respond to the hearing, the possibility of his contributing to the morning’s proceedings in real time meant that the way that people were processing this testimony online was inextricably linked to what was happening on screen.

As far as the unintentional comedy of the whole situation, some were quick to point out how even the most direct answers to questions can take on a different meaning, especially in this setting. Comey, a man of little body language, showed just how important specific words can be. With each passing answer, people searched for added importance in every direct response.

The reality show aspect of the hearing wasn’t lost on anyone, but the two-and-a-half-hour length of this session certainly ran contrary to the neat tidiness of a grand confessional moment that might come with a fictional version of this hearing. Comey opted not to read the opening statement that was submitted to committee officials and the public late Wednesday afternoon, which did rob the proceedings of any fiery revelations. Watch this hearing with the sound off and there was nothing — besides maybe Comey’s rigid demeanor in the face of a flurry of reporters — that would lend itself to a stirring visual moment.

In a TV-viewing landscape that gravitates to heroes and villains, it’s also impossible to avoid the idea that different viewers will see different committee members and Comey himself as firmly in one of those two camps. But what happens when no one comes out this experience looking all that great? Some, like “Scrubs” and “Cougar Town” creator Bill Lawrence, continue to see the spectacle as one where many people don’t see a baseline of trust. Without that guiding force orientating viewers, it puts the emphasis again back on the words and statements at hand, which are subject to interpretation as much as ever.

The idea of this testimony as a uniting force among eager viewers meant that people at the top of the TV business had a captive Twitter audience to share thoughts on other events in American and global politics. “Catastrophe” creator Rob Delaney spent most of the session urging British citizens to vote in the UK general election happening Thursday. Simien linked to multiple stories about the impending Senate healthcare bill, also a matter under consideration on Capitol Hill today.

One of the main people behind the most significant bit of recent, fictional on-air “Testimony,” “Veep” showrunner David Mandel, also reminded us of where the White House hopes that more Americans would place their attention.

In the end, the desire for this morning’s testimony to clean up everything wrong in our current political climate was always going to be a wishful one. Leave it to Julie Klausner to keep everything in perspective.

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