Barack Obama: American Stories ran on CBS, Fox, and NBC last night, and according to preliminary Nielsen ratings, the "Obamamercial" was a success, pulling in 26.3 million viewers (
29.9 33.5 million if you add in Univision.) The show featured 4 mini-docs about folks Obama has met on the campaign trail, followed by a recap of his policy proposals. Generally, critics were impressed with production values, from the Aaron Copland-esque soundtrack, to montages of cornfields, to the set, which looked like an oak paneled version of the Oval Office. But the biggest accolades went to Obama himself, who clearly spent some time studying at the Martin Sheen School of Appearing Presidential on Television. "Obama is the first person I've seen looking like an American president in quite a long time," snarked The Guardian. Read on for more analysis of his performance and Emmy award chances.Newsweek
Ultimately, the entire Obamamercial was designed to provide voters with a preview of what it will feel like to welcome Obama in their living rooms for the next four years. The presidency is the most personal of America's elective offices, and it is through the TV set, in the privacy of our own homes, that the relationship between the president and the people develops. More than the convention, or the debates, or any 30-second spot, the Obamamercial simulated how the country would interact with Obama if he were elected president—with him on one side of the screen, perched at a large, flag-framed desk, and us on the other, slumped on the couch. It was almost as if the election was already over, Obama was speaking from the Oval Office and the country was still standing. And that was the point.
Given George Bush's disappearing act and his showing up for pressers these days with all the confidence and enthusiasm of day-old toast, and John McCain's seeming less like a competitor and potential leader than a disgruntled spectator, shouting crankily from the sidelines about the wretched unfairness of being denied what he believes he's entitled, Obama is the first person I've seen looking like an American president in quite a long time.
The ordinary-American stories worked very well, emotionally and aesthetically. At times I thought I was watching Friday Night Lights, what with all the plangent Americana music, small-town tableaus and little league football ... But I would have cut every single politician from the piece, with the exception maybe of Joe Biden, and made room for a couple more of the stories. I don't know; to wiser political minds than mine, maybe there was some microtargeting case that X thousand voters in Ohio, New Mexico and Virginia would be moved by seeing their governors get air time. But having a bunch of Democrats tell us how wonderful a figure a fellow Democrat is clashed with the ordinariness of the other stories. (What's so persuasive here? Wow, a bunch of VP short-listers possibly in line for Cabinet positions have nice things to say about him! He must really be special!) They (and the Obama-seated-at-desk segments) seemed like campaign commercials within a commercial.
The New Republic
In between the standard-fare bits, Obama channeled a Katie Couric vibe, gently relating other people's stories exactly like a soft-news anchor does ... the person he presented himself as tonight was a listener, a gatherer of stories, a reporter, somebody who's interested in the pure, gritty texture of his interlocutors' lives, and not merely in the way their lives happen to illustrate his abstract positions. At one juncture, he gave a shout-out to a woman he'd met in Iowa whose son had recently deployed. The reminiscence didn't even entirely have a point. Its goal was to telegraph that he was listening, even to the random people on the trail who — unlike, say, Joe the Plumber — were never destined to become symbols.
The Washington Post
Although McCain was not seen during the half-hour, one could easily summon the contrasting image of the Republican while watching Obama. McCain has come across on television as relatively worried, whiny, fusty and falsely folksy. He brought bad news; he has come to epitomize and personify it. Obama brings you medication along with the list of symptoms; he has developed a great bedside, as well as fireside, manner. It was the easiest thing in the world, watching the skillfully edited hodgepodge put together by his campaign, to picture Obama as president.
[Obama] seemed rather passive. He literally was the narrator. He didn’t tell us what he’s done and why we should think he really can solve these people’s problems. (Sen. Dick Durbin said in passing he was in the state legislature — but did what? Joe Biden recycles Obama’s supposed “leadership” on the nuclear proliferation bill once again.) But you just have to take it on faith, you see, that he is capable of doing things and making good choices. Becasue it’s not what he’s done; it’s what he says that matters. He is not exactly a whirlwind of action and activity.
The National Review
As for the format of the special itself, aesthetically it was a bit nauseating with all the soft focus and generically uplifing music constantly swelling in and out. As for the content: I'm sorry . . . it's not that I don't care about those experiencing hardship — quite the contrary — but the last thing that should be driving America's voting habits is a half-hour of Manipulative Portraits of Downtrodden Victims of Shadowy Governmental Forces. Whatever our problems are right now, America is not one big breadline. To be fair, all politicians exploit these anecdotal cases but I think Obama's special really pushed the boundaries of my bile duct here.
The Weekly Standard
Sitting through the Very Special Episode of Obama for President tonight felt awfully familiar. It's like one of those required assemblies from middle school: hectoring, tedious, and transparently silly. But it did have one unexpected effect on me. Never before have I noticed how wonderful commercials are. It's not until you're forced to go without the Geico cavemen for 30 straight minutes that you realize how much you appreciate them.
Obama's Presidential Dress Rehearsal [Newsweek] A Half-Hour of Hope [The Guardian] Getting to Know You (And Him): The O-mercial [Time] An Infomercial Never Felt So Good (So Good, So Good) [The New Republic] ObamaVision: An Appeal to the Masses [The Washington Post] The Info-Bore [Commentary Magazine] A Very Special Obama [The National Review] The Infomercial [The Weekly Standard]