NBC to unveil ‘1600 Penn,’ a new Washington comedy


The cast of “1600 Penn.” (NBC)
May 8, 2012

NBC has added another member in the pantheon of TV series about dysfunctional Washington.

The network — which on Monday will officially unveil its prime-time plans for next season, kicking off an orgy of new-sked unveiling known as the Broadcast Networks’ Upfront Week — has ordered a comedy called “1600 Penn.” The show, about a dysfunctional first family, is exec-produced by, among others, former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett.

Before Lovett left Washington (in September) for Dottyville on the Pacific, he wrote many of President Obama’s speeches about financial reform, seeded laugh lines into Rahm Emanuel’s commencement speeches and wrote gags for Obama’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner remarks.

An NBC pickup of “1600 Penn” was considered something of a slam-dunk among TV industry intelligentsia (oxymoronic?) given that NBC’s head of programming, Jennifer Salke, was, until summer of ’11, an exec VP at 20th Century Fox TV — which is the studio behind “1600 Penn.”

NBC had great ratings success years ago with a certain White House drama called “The West Wing,” whose writers included congressional staffer turned cable-TV host Lawrence O’Donnell and former Clinton White House speechwriter Eli Attie.

ABC had less success with its White House drama “Commander in Chief,” in which Geena Davis landed the POTUS role.

And in July, USA will unveil “Political Animals,” in which Sigourney Weaver does not play Hillary Clinton but, rather, a former first lady to a philandering POTUS, who runs unsuccessfully for POTUS herself and loses, only to get named secretary of state by the new president.

But it’s unclear whether America embraces the idea of laughing at the first family. Years ago, Comedy Central’s “That’s My Bush,” about the President George W. Bush’s clan, died in infancy. So, too, did the defunct UPN network’s “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,” which imagined a black butler as the real brains of the dysfunctional Lincoln White House.

But more recently, HBO debuted to solid numbers the comedy series “Veep,” in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a senator who becomes VPOTUS and learns that the job is nothing as she’d imagined — and hilarity ensues. It was created by Armando Iannucci, the Scottish satirist who penned the Oscar-nominated “In the Loop.” He’s also exec-producing, as is New York mag’s Frank Rich.

Bill Pullman plays the president of the United States in “1600 Penn,” Jenna Elfman is the first lady, and “The Book of Mormon’s” Josh Gad plays the president’s eldest son, who provides most of the “dysfunction.”

NBC has also ordered a new drama series that’s best described as “House is a veterinarian.” You know — loves pets, hates the humans who own them.

Kelley/Gupta drama

The broadcast networks aren’t the only ones unveiling new programming plans next week in New York. Time Warner networks TNT and TBS on Tuesday will hold a dog-and-pony show at which TNT will announce it has picked up a new medical drama from David E. Kelley and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.

Gupta’s CNN, like TNT, is owned by Time Warner; CNN is in need, ratings-wise, of all the corporate synergy it can get. Kelley, meanwhile, is based at Time Warner’s Warner Bros. TV. Ain’t vertical integration a beautiful thing?

Set at the fictional Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Ore. — the Pacific Northwest being the hot hospital location (see “Grey’s Anatomy’s,” Seattle Grace Hospital in Seattle) — “Monday Mornings” follows the lives of doctors as they “push the limits of their abilities” and “confront their personal and professional failings,” TNT said Tuesday.

The show’s title refers to the hospital’s weekly morbidity and mortality conference, when doctors gather with their peers for a confidential review of complications and errors in patient care. Alfred Molina stars as Dr. Harding Hooten, the steely-eyed chief of surgery; Ving Rhames plays Dr. Jorge “El Gato” Villanueva, the hospital’s trauma chief.

OWN’s woes

OWN network won’t break even until the second half of 2013, Discovery Communications President and Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav said Tuesday.

Discovery reported a nearly 30 percent decline in first-quarter earnings — hurt by the struggles of the OWN co-venture between Discovery and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo company.

“We have a long way to go,” Zaslav told analysts Tuesday regarding OWN, in a phone call to discuss first-quarter numbers, according to news coverage from multiple outlets.

“We remain confident in the growth potential of this network,” he added, urging investors to tune out the “noise” about OWN’s financial losses. “Despite what you read, we’re making real progress,” he said, noting OWN has taken steps to improve its financial situation.

(OWN recently let 30 staffers go and whacked its pricey, low-rated Rosie O’Donnell show.)

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/tvblog.

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