‘1600 Penn,’ with Bill Pullman and Jenna Elfman: It’s ‘not a political show’
By Emily Yahr,
If there’s one thing the cast of “1600 Penn” wants to make clear, it’s that the White House-set comedy about a quirky first family has nothing to do with politics.
“It’s absolutely, absolutely not a political show, and I can’t emphasize that enough,” said co-creator Josh Gad, who also stars as the president’s son on the NBC series, which airs a preview of the pilot on Monday night. “We never set out to make a political show. . . . We wanted to make a show about a family that happens to live in a world where they are surrounded by politics.”
Speaking to reporters on a conference call with co-stars Bill Pullman (the president) and Jenna Elfman (the first lady), Gad said the objective is to explore a dysfunctional family dynamic and the twists that occur when they live under a microscope at one of the most famous addresses in the world.
“This idea of trying to comment on the politics of the time, that’s not really something that comes into the equation,” Gad said. But he conceded, “It’s always an underlying element in the comedy.”
“And there will be a drop of a political thing, which is only there to then spark the family story,” chimed in Elfman, whose first lady character is also a stepmom who “is desperately trying to win over the affections of the kids” but seems to fail at that goal.
Politically themed or not, it helps to have strong Washington DNA in the project. Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for President Obama, is on board as one of the show’s executive producers, along with Jason Winer (“Modern Family”) and Mike Royce (“Men of a Certain Age”). Gad said that the addition of Lovett, who left the administration for Hollywood last fall, helps keep the show grounded in White House reality.
Despite the background of the people involved in the project, Gad added that this family isn’t based on any first family in particular — but he noted that you “could look back as far as Mary Todd Lincoln” and see dysfunction in the famous residence. He and Winer, his co-creator, were fascinated by the prospect of the country’s most powerful family living out their problems in the present-day constant media cycle.
And for Washingtonians setting up their “1600 Penn” D.C. Geography Drinking Game (Someone drives from Dupont Circle to Capitol Hill in five minutes? Take a shot.), you can put down the glass. Pullman, playing a president yet again in his career, acknowledged that there are “a lot of specificities” about the city of Washington, but the show doesn’t begin to cover them.
“We’re so much in the White House, and it’s a domestic story,” he said, “so we don’t really get to show a lot about Washington, D.C.”
The pilot of “1600 Penn” (30 minutes) airs Monday at 9:30 pm on NBC; the show officially debuts Jan. 10 in its regular day and time slot on Thursdays at 9:30 pm.