People often say we're in a new golden age of television. That was never truer than tonight, when 10 men took the stage to make their case for the Republican party's presidential nomination in 2016.
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, John Kasich, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Chris Christie all joined Fox News on Thursday night in the very first debate of the election season. And it was fantastic television.
As any Hollywood executive knows, there's no surefire formula for a TV hit. But there are certain elements that are present in every critically acclaimed television drama, and they were all there tonight.
Here's why it was one of the greatest nights of TV any of us has ever had the privilege to witness:
1. The show started off with a bang Like any good show, you want to really pull the viewer in and let them know they're in for a wild ride. This debate accomplished that quite nicely roughly 30 seconds in, when moderator Bret Baier asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would run as a third-party candidate if they did not secure the Republican nomination. Obviously — obviously — Trump raised his hand.
Baier asked him if he knew what he meant. Running as a third-party candidate could take votes away from the Republican nominee, thereby securing a Democrat win.
"I understand," Trump said. "I understand. I can totally make the pledge that if I am the nominee, I will not run as an independent."
2. Adversaries revealed themselves quicklyIn response to Trump's threats of a third party run, Rand Paul said, "He's already hedging his bets because he's used to buying politicians." It was the first but certainly not the last "oh SNAP!" moment of the debate.
3. It slyly referenced other great moments in entertainment history "In Florida, they called me Veto Corleone." - Jeb Bush
4. There was a strong female lead We're all pretty sure the winner of tonight's debate was Megyn Kelly. She asked smart, thoughtful questions that really pushed the candidates to clarify their positions on popular issues.
Well, until the last question, where she asked if Jesus had any thoughts He would like to personally pass along through them. Look, audiences hate it when a woman is smarter than all the men. Which brings us to the next point of greatness...
5. Women were put in their place It's no secret that Hollywood isn't the most friendly place for women. Why should this debate be any different? Instead of telling women they're too old, like a Hollywood hack, Trump took a fresh approach and reminded us what the real problem is: Political correctness.
"I think the big problem that this country has is being politically correct," Trump said, in response to a question from Megyn Kelly about unkind statements he's made to women in the past. "I've been challenged by so many people, and I frankly don't have time for total political correctness, and to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don't win anymore."
6. Characters subverted audience expectations We all more or less expected Trump's line about building a "big, beautiful wall" along the border to keep the Mexicans out. But we didn't expect him to say he'd put a door in it.
And we especially didn't expect Marco Rubio — the only Latino candidate on the stage — to concur that America needs a physical wall to keep immigrants out. That's the sort of fresh character development that really challenges your audience.
7. Tension was found in unexpected places A measured statement about civil liberties versus national security turned into a fierce debate about... hugs and 9/11. You know M. Night Shyamalan was at home kicking himself for not thinking of that twist first.
Rand Paul: "I don't trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead."
Chris Christie: "You know, Sen. Paul, the hugs that I remember are the ones I gave to the families who lost their people on Sept. 11."
8. There were killer one-liners Great entertainment has to have great quotes. And it's going to be hard to beat Mike Huckabee saying, "The purpose of the military is to kill people and break things." That's probably second only to his assertion that Social Security is insolvent because of "illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people that are freeloading off the system." Eminently quotable.
9. Expert product placement After a full 47 seconds was dedicated to police brutality and use of force, Fox News ran an ad for Straight Outta Compton. Genius.
10. It ended with an appeal to a higher power Specifically, it ended with each candidate taking a turn to explain why Jesus personally wanted them to be president. Ben Carson took some of his extremely limited time on screen to explain how his tax plan was devised by none other than God Himself, "because God is a pretty fair guy."
But before that, half of them did a shout-out to an even higher power: Ronald Reagan. Kasich defended expanding Medicaid by saying Reagan did it first. Rand Paul said he was a "Reagan conservative."
But the best moment was when Donald Trump, when questioned about his "evolving" views on abortion, explained: "You know who else evolved? Ronald Reagan."
So there you have it. Cancel next year's television awards show and throw away your Mad Men boxed set. Set your collection of Breaking Bad DVDs on fire and throw every season of The West Wing in the garbage. The greatest night of television just happened.
What did you think of the GOP debates?