Over the past month or so, producers of two different reality show projects contacted me about series they planned to set in Washington, D.C. (where I live). In fact, there seems to be a multitude of reality show producers prowling the city, scouting all kinds of Capitol "types" -- young, attractive Hill staffers; gumshoe reporters; colorful lobbyists; competitive housewives; "blonde charity mafias"; power players, etc.
Just yesterday, I bumped into one of my neighbors at the gym, who told me that he and his gay partner had signed to do a reality show with TLC, based on their exotic family life in the newly "glamorous and hot" capital.
So what did these shows want from me?
It was never very clear exactly -- nor were the producers forthcoming about how they got my name (which I found slightly alarming. Was I known generally as some sort of "local character" who would provide rich, amusing fodder for their viewers? Kind of like the blue-painted homeless lady with Tourette's Syndrome who haunts our nearby Metro stop?). In any case, once I made it clear that I was not interested in Tweeting for their cameras, I cheerfully gave them "background" information on life in Washington -- which mostly consisted of disabusing them that the city was "newly glamorous and hot."
I've seen this cycle before -- the last time during the Clinton reign. And as a Republican (maybe that's what makes me exotic?!), I've been known to grumble amongst my friends that it's only when a Democrat becomes president that Hollywood suddenly takes an interest in Washington.
Exhibit A, of course, is Saturday's White House Correspondents Dinner, the annual prom for political journalists and politicians. The list of celebrities showing up for this year's event dwarfs even that from the Inauguration. So much so that media whiz Tammy Haddad felt there was a niche opening for a website devoted entirely to the subject of the dinner. Here, guests and eRubberneckers can get up to the minute details of the menu ("Petite filet with sundried tomatoes "), which stars are sleeping -- sorry, attending -- with which media organizations (Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise, Robert de Niro, Sting, Elton John...), and the "exclusive Vanity Fair-Bloomberg after-party," one of three big bashes being thrown to accommodate celebrity overflow (the others will be held by Time and People).
"Gosh, remember the celebrities WE got?" a conservative friend of mine sighed, as we discussed the first of the parties we would not be attending for the next four years.
"I remember seeing Bo Derek at one," I replied. "That was pretty good."
"I suppose. But we mostly had to settle for--you know--network correspondents 'from New York' and American Idol contestants. "
"And don't forget -- oh, what was his name? That guy with the big moustache from the 1970s -- "
"G. Gordon Liddy?"
"No! Tom...Tom Selleck!" (We had Liddy too. )
"And disgraced politicians," my friend added. "They were big."
The Democrats will have those as well of course -- including, this year, Alberto Gonzales, who will be attending as a guest of the Houston Chronicle. Although why "Fredo" would want to mingle under all those Hollywood death stares I'm not sure. Unless he is pitching a reality show of his own?
Still, no amount of celebrity sugaring can coat Washington in glamour. Not even that hot Obama guy can. For the reality of the D.C. reality show is this: Washington remains a capital city in the mold of other dull official, capital cities -- Ottawa, Brussels, Canberra, Brazilia, Strasbourg. It's not a capital in the manner of London, Paris, or Berlin. When a city's main business and raison d'etre is politics, then it's, de facto, going to be a dull place. Hollywood thrillers aside, Washingtonians are rarely found using zip lines to break into ultra-secret rooms hiding stashes of revealing documents. Break into your typical Senator's office, and the most interesting document you are likely to find will be that day's minutes from the meeting of the Joint Committee on Printing. Our nation's capital is, as my husband once quipped, "Toledo with nuclear weapons."
And maybe with slightly better architecture. But not, I think, better parties.
Thus the White House Correspondents Dinner unfailingly disappoints most of those who attend it. All the magic is in the build-up. Then you find yourself squashed into the grand salon of the downtown Hilton, circa 1960s, with two thousand others equally disappointed by the person they find themselves sitting beside (except for the two guests at the head table seated on either side of the president, and the media bosses who have put the starlet or general next to themselves). That's because the majority of your tablemates are advertising executives whom your host is trying to reward and/or impress. One of my best friends is married to the head of a publication that habitually sponsors a table -- and she is not permitted to attend as these invitations can't be "wasted" on spouses.
Frigid air conditioning pours down upon your bare shoulders (if you are a woman). You can barely hear yourself think above the stockyard noises of the surrounding egos, braying for attention -- noises amplified by the ballroom's stadium-like acoustics. As you roll bread between your fingers, you may be at a loss to decide which is worse: gamely trying to make conversation with the ad guy, whose eyes keep straining around the room trying to catch sight of a bona fide celebrity -- or the empty chair on your other side, vacated, for most of the evening, by a journalist trying to get face time with media higher-ups and/or congressional sources. Meanwhile, Hilton staff deal the plates on to the table like poker cards; behind you, there are near mid-air collisions of trays bearing water glasses and the remnants of the last course. You'll have to reach across the table to refill your own wineglass -- and most likely, that bottle is already empty and there isn't another anywhere to be found, not even if you were willing to purloin it from another table.
Finally the speeches happen -- but they are hard to hear over the non-stop shmoozing. A sound man clunks your head with his boom. You wonder why you didn't stay home to watch the whole event on C-SPAN -- and better, you'd have an unobstructed view! And then, when it's all over, there is the stampede to the doors for more of this, at another venue...
Take it away, Democrats. It's your party now.