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Television John Doyle: The White House drama is better than Game of Thrones

It was Tuesday, shortly after 1 p.m. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer was talking to Seth Moulton, a former American Marine Corps officer and currently a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Do you think [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn acted alone?" Blitzer asked darkly.

"I don't think Flynn is the only one to fall here," Moulton replied.

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If you were keeping track, you tended to nod in agreement.

Not long after, another CNN reporter was confirming that a source had told CNN that "Top White House officials are trying to take each other down like Game of Thrones."

Again, you nodded. That makes a lot of sense.

What is unfolding now is a TV phenomenon, and the ratings prove it. Daily, on the all-news channels, a dark drama unspools that embraces conflict, with a continuing sub-narrative of fights, breaks and terrible ruptures.

It has all been created and is acted out by people with an intuitive sense of visceral, raw drama. That is, the most basic kind of story that involves, bullying, infighting and feuds.

There are mysterious forces of influence in other lands – Russia – and the enemy – alleged terrorists – are trying to breach the walls. When the King is at his summer palace of Mar-a-Lago, a strange kind of sunny giddiness breaks out there. Thematically, this only underscores the darkness back at the main palace – knives are sharpened in readiness for the assassinations to come.

It's a hit drama, as Game of Thrones is. Close to five million U.S. viewers are watching Sean Spicer's White House briefings. It's beating the daytime soaps, and the The Dr. Oz Show and Dr. Phil in the ratings. On Sunday mornings, that most dozy of slots on TV, NBC's Meet the Press is getting 4.1 million viewers, with Face The Nation on CBS getting 3.8 million. The numbers don't lie – this is hit-TV territory.

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On Tuesday, minutes after that Game of Thrones reference was tossed round, along came Spicer to deliver his daily briefing. Cunningly, he bored everyone with the President's agenda and then took questions. Some viewers probably had the feeling that, somewhere inside the White House, somebody was being locked in a closet at that very minute and would not be allowed to emerge until they agreed to resign. It was that kind of day and that kind of drama.

Simultaneously, if you were engaged with the drama on two screens, you knew that Kellyanne Conway had just tweeted, "I serve at the pleasure of @POTUS. His message is my message. His goals are my goals. Uninformed chatter doesn't matter." That was a doozy. I mean, what "uninformed chatter?" And how many knives are being sharpened? Is "chatter" code for knives?

This viewing experience is now a daily ritual for vast numbers of people. The White House drama is actually better than Game of Thrones. It moves at a faster pace. The fantastical elements are more believable than the magic and dragons on GoT.

Let's be clear – it's not a comedy. It's not a farce. As funny as Saturday Night Live has been in its ferocious mocking, the satire has impact because what unfolds daily at the White House is disturbingly, shockingly real. While the comic attacks on Spicer are hilarious, they only serve to underline that each White House briefing has become an unnervingly tangled tale of half-truths, obfuscation and outright denial of verified truth.

And because it is all so tangled, it's very easy to get sucked into it – on Tuesday, Spicer looked relaxed and cheerful, so you wondered if he'd just scored an important office-politics victory over Kellyanne. Was that what her tweet was about?

Further, Spicer's defence of Donald Trump's actions sometimes makes a wet paper bag look tough, but on Tuesday he was genuinely sparring with journalists. Where did he get that confidence?

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The White House is leaking like a sieve. And sometimes it's leaking blood – not literally, so far, but the texture of this drama is being created on the fly by people who instinctively want to crush others, destroy competitors and brag about victory.

On Monday, our Prime Minister and his team had a small walk-on role in this messy and disturbing chronicle. It was a brief cameo of little consequence. By the time he arrived – his presence suggesting vaguely that the storyline might for a mere moment be one of beauty and truth – the plot had shifted and all anyone who mattered was wondering about was Trump's possible mention of Flynn.

By nightfall on Monday, Flynn had fallen. By Tuesday, the key question was: "Do you think Flynn acted alone?" And so the world tunes in daily, not to some soap opera or comedy, but to an ugly and ultimately depressing drama that often feels soul-polluting in its illumination of the machinations of power and influence.

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