Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2005 / 29 Elul 5765
John H. Fund
A TV Show and Its Political Party
No such luck. A few years later we got "The West Wing" instead. But the glass-ceiling speculation has not gone away. Indeed, it is more intense than ever. Political pundits speculate endlessly, for instance, about a possible Hillary-Condi match-up in 2008. Thus the mood was positively giddy at the parties celebrating "Commander in Chief," ABC's new series about a female president who assumes office after the incumbent dies.
The series pits Academy Award-winner Geena Davis against the patriarchal world of national politics until her "You Go, Girl!" attitude puts to rest the doubts of her many detractors. The creator of "Commander in Chief," Rod Lurie, is apparently trying to broaden the show's appeal by promising that he won't be using it as a soapbox for his admittedly liberal views. He is quick to note that Ms. Davis isn't playing a Democrat. Instead she is an independent who landed on a Republican ticket in order to offset a conservative candidate's low approval rating among women.
Mr. Lurie insists that red-state viewers need not shun the show. He admits that he "can't write to a belief system that I can't swallow myself," but he says that he has hired some conservative writers to make up for his deficit. Not that a balanced approach was evident at the series-celebrating parties, in Washington and New York, hosted by the feminist White House Project.
Marie Wilson, the founder of the White House Project, told attendees how she struggled for years to convince Hollywood to do a show about a woman in the Oval Office. "We offered a prize, we offered to pay for a script. But they still didn't think it would interest people," she lamented. "Then like out of some Zen moment they suddenly decided the time was now." And maybe the time is now: The latest Rasmussen Poll finds that more than three-quarters of voters are comfortable with the idea of a female president. All the Hillary-Condi talk clearly means something.
But Condi had nothing to do with the conversations at the White House Project parties. Attendees made it abundantly clear that they see the show as a liberal fantasy. Much as "The West Wing" portrayed the White House that liberals wish Bill Clinton had run, "Commander in Chief" will look forward to something resembling a Hillary Clinton presidency, or so its fans presume.
After the Washington premiere, Steve Cohen, a writer for the series who was Mrs. Clinton's deputy White House communications director, was mobbed by the senator's fans. One of the few Republicans in attendance, Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida, noted that the show "is softening up the country for Hillary." In a postscreening panel discussion, Eleanor Clift of Newsweek agreed that "Commander in Chief" would help Sen. Clinton. "It's so idealistic, calling us to a higher purpose," she told the audience.
Idealistic to some, stereotypical to others. We'll let the critics decide. Suffice it to say, for now, that the first episode involved an effort by the dying (Republican) president to shunt aside the vice president (Ms. Davis) so that a malevolently conservative House speaker can take over. (Right, that would happen.) A member of the vice president's staff says that the speaker stands for "the return of book burning, creationism in the classroom and invading every Third World country." The statement is not meant as a compliment. For balance, the new President Allen will supposedly have a few views that Mr. Lurie says are conservative, like abstinence educationalthough even Hillary has endorsed that one.
Mr. Lurie acknowledges that his TV series is a direct descendant of his film "The Contender," which starred Joan Allen as a Democratic senator who becomes a piņata for conservatives during her confirmation hearings to replace a deceased vice president. This movie was such an egregiously crude version of the "virtuous liberal vs. conservative slime-ball" genre that Gary Oldman, one of the movie's stars, called it "a piece of propaganda" designed to help Al Gore. The movie was released a month before the 2000 election.
Mr. Lurie recognizes that his show should stay "centered" to have the best chance at commercial success. But even he acknowledges the temptation to tug left. Last year he told the Baltimore Sun that "the world has become so partisanand I'm as guilty of this as the next guythat there is always a dark side of the force." President Allen, meet Darth Vader.
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