‘Happy Days,’ ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Seinfeld’: Why Cast Reunions Became One Of This Cycle’s Hottest Political Fundraising Trends

·4 min read

When the Wisconsin Democratic Party announced a cast reunion of Happy Days for this Sunday, all to raise money for the final sprint until election day, one member was noticeably absent: Scott Baio.

The Donald Trump supporter wrote on Twitter that the show was being used as a “political pawn.”

The result, though, was more attention for event, which in fundraising circles is just what is wanted in the final weeks of a presidential campaign, a time when donors are inundated with online appeals.

The last few weeks have seen a flood of reunion events, of casts of old TV shows and cult hit movies, giving a retro, Back to the Future feel to the political money race.

Just this coming weekend saw cast members from Seinfeld get back together for a Texas Democratic Party event on Friday, a Wet Hot American Summer get together for Joe Biden’s campaign on Saturday and the Happy Days event for Wisconsin Democrats on Sunday.

The idea seemed to take off last month, when the Wisconsin Democratic Party hosted a cast reading of The Princess Bride, raising $4 million and drawing 100,000 donors. That was more than the party raised in all of 2016.

Ben Wikler, the chairman of the state party, said that someone on their team was friends with someone who then contacted Cary Elwes.

“Cary was very excited about the idea of getting the team back together, and went a step further and wanted to do a script read,” Wikler said. “This friend of a friends connection turned into a snowball moment.”

One fan of the movie who was not happy was Ted Cruz, who complained that “every Princess Bride fan who wants to see that perfect movie preserved from Hollywood politics makes it now.” Yet his attention only served to build interest in the event.

Wikler said that the reunion fundraisers have taken off “as soon as people saw what was possible in the quarantine era. Everyone is at home now so it is possible to get combinations of people together in a way that would have seemed like a fever dream.”

The party also has done reunions of the casts of Veep and Parks and Rec. Next week, they are planning a reunion of cast members of Superbad, featuring Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, Bill Hader, Martha MacIssac, Greg Mottola and Evan Goldberg.

What has undoubtedly helped make things easier is Zoom, as organizers no longer have to juggle travel schedules and other arrangements. But there also a sense of urgency among participants. Wikler said that in many of the cases of their events, at least one cast member takes the lead in promoting the event.

Most of the reunion events have focused on the show themselves, with trivia and cast interviews, rather than spending extended periods of time on partisan politics. But they undoubtedly have the bandwagon effect, i.e. if the stars of your favorite shows want Trump out, wouldn’t you?

Back in 2008, Ron Howard starred in a Funny or Die video in which he reunited with Happy Days star Henry Winkler and The Andy Griffith Show star Andy Griffith to support Barack Obama’s campaign, with all of them going back into their old characters.

The Trump campaign has drawn on pop culture figures, too, and with the same kind of pushback. On Sunday the Beach Boys performed at a Trump fundraiser in Newport Beach. Original member Mike Love, a supporter of the president, owns a license to the name. But other members Brian Wilson and Al Jardine gave a statement to Variety making clear that they had nothing to do with the event.

As was the case with Baio, not all cast members agree with the politics of the rest of the cast, and some performers perhaps don’t want to get into the political fray.

Longtime Star Trek fan Pete Buttigieg was among the politicos who participated in the Biden campaign reunion and told the Deadline podcast that the event was somewhat of a dream come true.

“We’re talking about a childhood fantasy about being able to interact with these cast members,” he said. “At one point, there was a cast member, a relatively obscure character from Next Generation that comes back in the more recent series Picard, and I realized that I could reach into my closet and find the old action figure I had of this character. So I was geeking out in a huge way.”

So were others. “We were all absolutely schooled by Stacey Abrams,” Buttigieg said. “She is next level.”

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