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Liberal realist: Sidse Babett Knudsen as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg in "Borgen" 

It is a statement of the obvious to say that since the Ancient Greeks writers have known that the powerful are more dramatic than the rest of us. You do not need me to tell you that their decisions can improve or destroy individuals or nations; that what leaders do with power shows their character in the clearest light, and teaches the rest of us hard truths about human nature. Someone needs to tell the controllers of television, however. Their disdain for politics in part explains the collapse of British TV drama from world leader to also-ran.  

Media managers still commission excellent one-off drama-documentaries — Peter Morgan's films about the Blair years, for instance. But drama series come from the classics, or the tired detective genre or feel-good scripts written by and for Middle England because editors lack the imaginative intelligence to see their society in the round.

The only way most of them can demonstrate the dramatic potential of power is to carry on commissioning work in the Chris Morris/Armando Iannucci style. Their furious absurdism has been hugely influential. Television and radio satirists and half the comic writers in the press are still ripping off monologues from On the Hour or The Thick of It. The jeering attacks were exhilarating at the turn of the century. They still can be in small portions, but they make for a stale diet.

For freshness, look at how writers of some of the best dramas of our time — The Wire, The Killing, The West Wing — knit politics into wider society. Politicians seem powerless to change ghettos in The Wire. The Killing dispenses with the assumption, so commonplace in British drama, that politics has nothing to do with policing, and shows detectives nervously responding to political instructions and calculating the dangers to their careers. Both resemble 19th-century novels in that they present sweeping pictures of Baltimore and Copenhagen. They are not "about" politics. But their writers know they cannot ignore how their cities are governed if they want to paint on a wide canvas. Their politicians may be craven or hubristic, frustrated idealists or temporising careerists, but they are never the gibbering caricatures of British TV. In The West Wing, indeed, they represent liberal Hollywood's ideal government.

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