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U.S. TV makes way for two White House dramas

(Posted September 24, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

A new TV show starring Oscar-winner Geena Davis as America's first female president, juggling career and family while holding Republican enemies at bay, is drawing Internet fire from conservatives and feminists alike.

But the big question among network executives is whether there is room enough in prime time for two White House dramas. "Commander In Chief" premieres on Tuesday on ABC following the return on Sunday of NBC's Emmy-winning White House drama "The West Wing."

Producers of "Commander In Chief" acknowledge their success depends on distinguishing the show from "West Wing," which is headed into its seventh season with a storyline pitting Alan Alda against Jimmy Smits in an election battle to replace current star Martin Sheen as president.


"If I was just throwing on the air another middle-aged white man as the president ... then, no, there would be no reason to do it," the new show's creator Rod Lurie, who also wrote and directed big-screen political drama "The Contender," told a recent gathering of TV critics.


Much also will hinge on how well Davis, whose two previous network TV series flopped, can carry off her latest role as a leader of the free world who remains very much a mom.

Aside from the obvious gender differences of its stars, "Commander" and "West Wing" differ sharply in politics and tone. "Commander" dwells on the private life of the first family, while "West Wing" focuses as much on the president's close aides as on the top guy.

Sheen's character, President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet, is a veteran Democrat in the twilight of his second term. The commander in chief Davis plays, Mackenzie Allen, is a political independent and relative newcomer to the halls of power.

FROM THELMA TO MADAME PRESIDENT

"It's certainly the role with the most gravitas that I've had to play," said Davis, who won an Oscar for her supporting role in "The Accidental Tourist," but is better known for her star turns in "Thelma & Louise" and "Stuart Little" movies.

As vice president in the series premiere, she assumes the nation's highest office when the Republican incumbent dies of a stroke, putting her at odds with the wishes of her late boss and Republican leaders. They want a member of their own party, Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton, played by Donald Sutherland, to succeed to the presidency.

Although Sutherland and Alda share the distinction of having both played Army doctor "Hawkeye" Pierce in their respective film and TV "M*A*S*H" performances, the Republican politicians they portray could hardly be more different.

While Alda's "West Wing" character, Sen. Arnold Vinick, is moderate, thoughtful and likable, Sutherland's Templeton on "Commander" is a politically ruthless ideologue and sexist.

Demonizing that show's leading Republican is almost sure to turn off conservative viewers, some of whom already see the show as the work of "liberal Hollywood preparing the nation for a Hillary Clinton presidency in 2008," according to Stacey Lynn Koerner, director for ad-buying agency Initiative.

Negative advance Internet buzz about the show was revealed in a recent survey of online chat rooms and discussion boards conducted by ad-buying agency Initiative Media. But conservatives are not the only ones upset over the series.

Although some have cheered the arrival of a TV show that imagines a woman in the White House, feminists have complained that the show's protagonist only assumed power through the death of a male president, rather than winning election in her own right, Koerner said.

Others have suggested the power of a Geena Davis presidency seems belittled by depicting her as having to juggle motherhood and politics, while Sheen's character is largely unfettered by such family-workplace conflicts.

Those critics apparently missed the "West Wing" episodes in which Sheen's President Bartlet temporarily ceded power to a Republican when Bartlet's daughter was kidnapped by terrorists.

Reuters/VNU



Source: Yahoo! News
 


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