A Woman in the White House -- For 24 Hours

Adhir Kalyan and Dan Byrd in the culture-clash comedy
Adhir Kalyan and Dan Byrd in the culture-clash comedy "Aliens in America." (By Trae Patton -- The Cw)
By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, July 21, 2007

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., July 20

Cherry Jones has been cast as the next president of the United States on the upcoming season of "24," Fox's popular counterterrorism show.

Jones had a smallish part in "Ocean's Twelve"; on NBC's White House drama "The West Wing," she played a Republican congresswoman who starts a campaign against federal funding of projects dealing with sexual diseases.

But the 50-year-old performer's true calling card is as one of the foremost stage actresses in America. She won her second Tony Award for her Broadway role in "Doubt," as Sister Aloysius, an autocratic nun who runs a Catholic school in the '60s and takes on a priest who she believes is sexually molesting a student.

News of Jones's "24" role first surfaced late Friday in trade paper reports. In another sign of how preposterous the presidential race already has become, with more than 470 days to go, the Hollywood Reporter speculated the decision to cast Jones adds "another wrinkle" to the campaign, in which Sen. Hillary Clinton is polling at the front of the Democratic pack.

Which you want to write off as ridiculous, except that earlier this year the U.S. Military Academy at West Point confirmed to New Yorker magazine that Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan had traveled to California to tell producers of "24" that its torture scenes were a bad influence on U.S. troops. He even suggested they do an episode in which torture backfires.

The show, co-created by Joel Surnow, a guy who describes himself as a "right-wing nut," is so important to the current administration that last year our country's top homeland security official took time out from dealing with the unabated threat of terrorism to attend a forum about "24."

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We got it when a television critic condemned as "depraved" the CW's new drama series "Gossip Girl" during Summer TV Press Tour 2007. The show is from Josh Schwartz and looks suspiciously like his "The O.C." pilot -- except, he assures critics, Upper East Side underage drinkers in "Gossip Girl" have sooooooo much money that the yearly income of the Cohens in "O.C." is their lunch money. And then there's the whole date-rape thing -- you know, rich guy jumps poor girl at fabulous party, poor girl text-messages brother, who rescues her in the nick of time.

But we have to admit we were shocked when critics lit into "Aliens in America" on Friday.

The series -- at least the pilot -- is a wonderful little "Freaks and Geeks"-ish comedy about a high school nerd who is so bullied by the "popular kids" that his well-meaning mother decides to get him a friend in the form of an exchange student.

Only the exchange student turns out to be a personable Pakistani Muslim, who also is treated like a freak by the other students and at least one teacher, and Mom decides to send him back. Until, that is, she learns that both his parents died about a year earlier. She then embraces him and they all live happily, if put upon, ever after -- or, hopefully, for five seasons.

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