Larry Gelbart’s political satire on a congressional hearing pokes delightful fun at the inflated rhetoric and the oversized egos of Washington. However, the unfolding story of Mastergate fails to grab interest, perhaps because nothing that comes out of the nation’s capital is surprising anymore.
The Mastergate Hearings, broadcast live over Total News Network (TNN), open with the committee chairman, Sen. Bowman (Richard Kiley), asking the all-important question, “What did the President know and did he know that he knew it?”
To answer, or more correctly, not to answer this question, the committee calls a parade, or charade, of witnesses, including young Justice Dept. turk Steward Butler (Ed Begley Jr.), IRS weasel Abel Lamb (Bruno Kirby), the smooth-as-silk Secretary of State Bishop (Ken Howard), superpatriot Major Manley Battle (James Coburn), the hard-hitting but waffling Vice President Burden (Dennis Weaver) and, finally, a surprise appearance by the recently deceased CIA director Wylie Slaughter (Burgess Meredith).
All of the witnesses are intensely questioned by committee counsel Shepherd Hunter (David Ogden Stiers) and members of the committee, who include Senators Bowman, Bunting (Darren McGavin) and Naito (Pat Morita), as well as Congressmen Sellars (Robert Guillaume) and Byers (Jerry Orbach).
This biting parody, originally produced as a stage play, is convincingly wrapped in the costume of a live TV newscast, complete with pontificating anchor Chip Chatworth (Tim Reid), breathless on-the-spot correspondent Merry Chase (Marcia Strassman) and very remote commentator Clay Fielder (Buck Henry).
The dialogue is priceless, with witnesses and committee members tripping over their tongues. But underneath this satire is the very serious point that Washington is engaged in an endless series of shenanigans followed by pointless hearings to probe them.
Unfortunately, the point is made in the first 20 minutes and, despite some sparkling dialogue, very little happens to hold viewer interest.