TV’s Fixers Crank Up the Tension
by Hugh Hart | LA Times | June 6, 2018
In real life, Michael Cohen, lawyer to President Trump and self-declared fixer, embodies the risks that come with cleaning up messes for the rich and powerful. On television, fixers tend to be more effective. They might be a PR puppet master like Kerry Washington’s “Scandal” character Olivia Pope or the homicidal White House chief of staff Doug Stamper played by Michael Kelly in “House of Cards.”
But whatever their official job titles, fictional TV fixers share an ability to crank up dramatic tension through the ruthless practice of skulduggery-for-hire.
In Showtime’s “Billions,” for example, hedge fund mogul Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) uses the spooky “Hall” (Terry Kinney) to contaminate investigations by U.S. Dist. Atty. Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti). “Billions” co-creator Brian Koppelman came to understand the role of fixers while researching Wall Street movers and shakers.
“We spoke to many hedge-fund managers, billionaires and powerful people,” he says. “One of the things we learned about people with unlimited resources is that those resources can sometimes purchase a heightened level of security, opposition research and help on the edges of what’s generally considered acceptable.”
Hall exploits that edge with chilling efficiency. This season in “Billions,” he slipped into the bedroom of a telecom employee one night and blackmailed him into altering phone records that would otherwise implicate an Axelrod associate on insider-trading charges.
Co-creator David Levien notes that Hall’s tactics make perfect sense to titans of industry. “Unless they had their fortunes handed to them, billionaires are highly competitive and aggressive,” Levien says. “They aren’t going to just sit back and answer questions in court one day with lawyers. They need personnel out there working for them, taking the strong-offense-is-the-best-defense approach.”
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