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TV Preview: Political climate of the day will dictate the course of 'K Street'

Sunday, September 14, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- It's impossible to review HBO's "K Street" in advance because production of tonight's premiere began Monday in Washington, D.C., and wasn't complete until perhaps yesterday or even today. That's just one of the unusual elements in this experimental series.

 
 

'K Street'

When: 10:30 tonight on HBO.
Starring: Mary McCormack, John Slattery.

   
 
 

Executive produced by actor George Clooney and directors Steven Soderbergh ("Ocean's Eleven") and Henry Bean ("The Believer"), "K Street" mixes fact and fiction. Real-life political figures appear as themselves and interact with fictional Washington lobbyists -- played by actors John Slattery and Mary McCormack -- who work for a fictional political consulting firm.

Plus, married political consultants James Carville (the Democrat) and Mary Matalin (the Republican) play themselves and also serve as consulting producers on "K Street."

Soderbergh calls it "real-time fiction" and a "process piece" designed to reveal to viewers how public policy is made, who knew what when and how a political story works its way into the public eye.

"We're not trying to editorialize about the process," he said in July. "We're just trying to show it."

It's not always a pretty picture. Carville referred to the old adage, "You shouldn't watch sausage or laws being made."

"We could do a show about making sausage or making laws," he added in his distinctive Cajun twang. "We decided to do one about making laws."

HBO showed critics clips from a test show in July that featured Sen. John McCain and Sen. Orrin Hatch addressing the characters as if they were real lobbyists, which does blur the line between fact and fiction, particularly for a viewer who stumbles upon "K Street."

"These are real issues," Bean said. "These are real people. This is how the process of government works. The only thing that is fictitious is our firm."

Production of each episode of "K Street" begins the Monday prior to its air date. Writers, actors and Carville and Matalin will gather to discuss what happened in the past week, read the day's papers and decide the topic of the episode. An outline and some dialogue for the actors is created, but much of "K Street" will be improvised. Soderbergh, who plans to direct five of the first 10 episodes, said the show will shoot "run-'n'-gun" style for 2 1/2 days and then edit for another two days.

"Our hope is that that will make it possible to get to some politicians and get them involved and get them talking before this sort of cycle of news has gone around so many times that they've started to, perhaps, be more guarded about their feelings on a certain issue or feel talked out," he said.

The real-life politicos can even influence the course of the story and characters. In the test episode, which will not air, actress McCormack did enough research on Hatch to know of his interest in music. At the end of her scene with him, she asked him how his music was coming along. He gave her his latest CD. Soderbergh used that spontaneous moment later in a cab when McCormack made a call and tried to wrangle an invitation to a male friend's home, using the CD as the carrot.

"We're going to have a basic template of where the characters are going to go, but we're also watching these characters interact with each other," Soderbergh said. "It's a very competitive firm, and there's going to be a lot of internecine warfare within the firm about who's on top and who's getting the good gigs. Our only rule is, we never follow any of the characters home.

"Whatever happens to them personally, to what extent we get into their personal lives, it's only dealt with when they're at work because we feel when you follow these kind of characters home, it becomes a melodrama."

After tonight, "K Street" will air at 10 p.m. Sundays.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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