ABC's 'Chief,' Politicked Off

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, July 28, 2005

BEVERLY HILLS,

Critics at Summer TV Press Tour 2005 demanded to know the politics of everyone on stage Wednesday at the Q&A session for ABC's new drama "Commander-in-Chief," about a set of plump red lips that take over the Oval Office after the president has a massive stroke and croaks.

First, they asked show creator Rod Lurie.

Then, they asked star Geena Davis.

Then, they asked everyone else.

"Is anybody onstage a Republican. Openly?" one critic inquired.

No one responded.

"It's not like when I hired them they had to fill out a questionnaire and say, 'I'm a Democrat,' " said Lurie, who earlier talked about having consultants on the show who had worked for Republican as well as Democratic politicians.

"We come from a community [of actors and filmmakers] that happens to be mostly Democratic. With all due respect, your question is loaded; you had to know the answer before you asked."

Lurie said that he's none too happy with the Democratic Party these days but that "Commander-in-Chief" will not be his personal soapbox. He also wrote and directed the political thriller "The Contender," about a female senator nominated to replace the dead veep.

Overall, we'd say the critics didn't seem too happy with the notion of a show about a female president or, possibly more important, a male first lady. One called Davis's husband on the series, played by Kyle Secor, "emasculated."

Another complained that by making Red Lips an Independent, she became just "wishy-washy."

Au contraire , Lurie replied.

Because Red Lips is an Independent, she feels she can't possibly ever be elected to the office into which she suddenly has been thrust. This gives her the freedom to do exactly what she thinks is right for the country during her tenure, Lurie explained. As an Independent, Red Lips is not beholden to either the Democratic or the Republican Party, which is something no politician of either persuasion can accomplish, unless you're Sen. John McCain, Lurie explained.

And yet, when Davis was asked whom she'd used as a model for the role, she did not name McCain. In fact, she said she didn't base her character on anybody because she likes to find parts of herself in the characters she plays, explaining that we have in ourselves the ability to be a killer or the girlfriend of an insect.

One critic questioned whether the prime-time landscape has room for two presidents, referring to Martin Sheen on NBC's "The West Wing."

"Absolutely, we can have two presidents -- we have two presidents in Washington now," Lurie said.

Ba-dum-dum!

"If I was just throwing on the air another middle-aged white man as president of the United States, and he is a Democrat, there would be no reason to do it," Lurie said, calling "West Wing" one of the greatest shows "in the history of television."

"I wouldn't want to go mano a mano with it in terms of what it is. We're very different."

While "West Wing" deals with specific political issues that are "rather arcane," "Commander-in-Chief" will deal with such issues as how to get the First Kids to school, how to take the First Kids trick-or-treating, how state dinners are run from A to Z -- a lot of East Wing stuff, Lurie explained.

That's probably because while Red Lips is president of the United States she's also a mother and "if there's one thing history has taught us," it's that while women can become prime ministers or heads of Fortune 500 companies, they almost always remain the primary caregivers of their children, he said.

Lurie thinks it a shame there are no "iconic" women in history because women do have greatness in them. Apparently he skipped the Elizabethan era in English history, but we took his point that there are fewer such women than men. Lurie named George Washington, Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln as examples of iconic men.

So far so good.

If only he hadn't followed it with:

"Try to find an iconic woman. There aren't any. The most iconic woman is Oprah Winfrey, and she deserves it."

All of this has led Lurie to believe that, sadly (unless you're one of those middle-aged male TV critics), we probably won't have a female president anytime soon.

"It's naive to think that a woman can actually do an effective job in the primaries, unfortunately," he said. "But if Hillary [Clinton] does win the [presidential] nomination, we're going to take credit."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company