The stars of Ivy Meeropol’s cable miniseries, “The Hill,” are a real congressman and three of his aides. It’s set in their Capitol Hill and district offices, and there is no script.
But don’t call it a reality show.
“Reality shows manufacture situations, they manipulate and take things out of context,” says Meeropol, insisting this is a documentary series. “We’re following the action, filming what is happening. We didn’t interfere.”
“The Hill,” which debuts Aug. 23 on the Sundance Channel (check local listings) follows Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat, his chief of staff and two other aides from the 2004 election through the Hurricane Katrina aftermath — Wexler’s district was hit hard — until the Thanksgiving recess in 2005. Meeropol shot some 250 hours of footage, edited down to six half-hour segments.
Wexler, whose district includes Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, is an observant Jew whose commitment to Israel is on display in the series. “We don’t make a big deal out of his religion, but it’s clear that he’s Jewish and a big defender of Israel, that it’s a major issue for him,” says Meeropol.
A former Brooklynite now living in Cold Spring, in Putnam County, Meeropol, 37, is best known for her acclaimed documentary “Heir To An Execution,” about her family’s efforts to understand the 1953 trial and punishment of her grandparents, Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. She is a former legislative aide to Wexler’s predecessor, Harry Johnston.
She said she chose to chronicle Wexler for practical reasons — she was friendly with Johnston staffers now working for Wexler and was familiar with the district — but also because she was looking for someone in the opposition party trying to steer the Democrats in a different direction. Wexler was seen as a maverick, taking independent positions on issues like the Iraq war and social security. The final episode chronicles Wexler’s decision to vote for a resolution to bring the troops home, one of only three House Democrats to do so.
“That made for another layer of conflict, not just going up against the Republican [majority] but going against his own leadership,” says Meeropol, who views the series as an expression of her newfound view that government can be a force for good.
“My grandparents were people who never would have thought that working within government was a way to improve people’s lives,” she says. “In college, I thought that in order to change the world and act on my beliefs I had to work outside the system. Now I’m really adamant about the fact that there is a lot great work to be done within the system … Congressman Wexler and his staff really showed that.”