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REALITY CHECK: Diane Holloway on 'Supreme Court Survivor'
July 16, 2009  | By Diane Holloway
Diane Werts here: Our other Diane elbows into my space after watching this week's Senate committee hearings on Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination. She's happy to have real news coverage back after TV's seemingly endless Michael Jackson memorial marathon. But who'da thunk the Senate committee transcript would reference both I Love Lucy and Perry Mason?

sotomayor fox news.jpgBy Diane Holloway

For viewers disgusted by the obsessive news coverage of Michael Jackson's death and memorial extravaganza, Judge Sonia Sotomayor's weeklong grilling before the Senate Judiciary Committee provided enough serious TV news to satisfy.

Our daily dramas can be both bizarre and important, right?

No matter which cable news channel you tuned to, the daytime saga known as The Sotomayor Hearings were all over the place this week. For the political junkies and wonks among us (including yours truly), this was riveting stuff.

Sotomayor, President Obama's first pick for the Supreme Court, brought intelligence, dignity and extreme caution to the show. She also brought the occasional flash of wit, which is all the more remarkable because, for the most part, she faced a bunch of grumpy old (white) men who subtly and not-so-subtly accused her of racism with her now infamous "wise Latina woman" remark in a speech years ago.

The hearings quickly took on the flavor of a reality show contest. To win the game, the contestant (Sotomayor) had to face sometimes witheringly disrespectful comments from senators like John Kyl (R-Arizona) with a smile on her face and a serious response in mind. She had to be unfailingly polite ("Good morning, sir" "Thank you for that question, sir"), and she had to choose her words carefully on hot-button topics such as abortion and gun control, without seeming to be evasive.

Viewers will be the judge of whether she won the game or not, but it seems a slam dunk that Sotomayor will be approved by the committee and move on before the full Senate to the next stage of "Supreme Court Survivor."

lucy desi splainin.jpgDuring the first stage, Sotomayor remained stalwart, forcing her opponents to walk a fine line between being tough and seeming rude.

After all the insinuations that this "wise Latina woman" must surely be bigoted beyond belief, Sotomayor deserved a medal for her unflinching reaction when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) attempted a Desi Arnaz-style Cuban accent out of I Love Lucy, finger-wagging at the nominee "You've got lots of 'splainin' to do."

Oy. I could be wrong, but I think I heard groans from the crowd. I know I heard groans from myself, and possibly even my loyal hound.

Perry Mason burger.jpgLucy wasn't the only TV show that cropped up in these hearings. Sotomayor said she had been inspired by the 1960s legal series Perry Mason while growing up in the Bronx. Besides the lead legal eagle, she said, she was even inspired by the show's long-suffering district attorney, the poor guy who continually lost to Mason but once declared that he didn't mind losing "as long as justice is served."

Al Franken (D-Minnesota), the new senator formerly known as Saturday Night Live's Stuart Smalley, decided to grill Sotomayor as to which Mason episode was the source of her inspiration. Funny -- but oh-so-sophomoric.

And Sotomayor, a 55-year-old Puerto Rican-American, is one of those American success stories that can warm even the coldest hearts. Accompanied by her 82-year-old mother, who worked two jobs to raise her two children, Sotomayor was a formidable TV presence all week.

The hearings for a Supreme Court nominee represent what cable news does best: provide live coverage of an important event. Luckily -- for the networks that served up the gavel-to-gavel coverage and for the viewers who were glued to it -- all the players were worth watching.

Tabloid entertainment stories are juicy, but shining light on our government can be tasty viewing, too.

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