PASADENA, CAlif. — Joe Biden will not be asked to guest-star in an episode of NBC’s new White House comedy, “1600 Penn,” but real media figures are welcome — at least NBC ones, and Larry King, according to the show’s exec producers, including former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett.
“It would destroy the universe” of the show to have real-live Washington politicians wandering into the scene, Lovett told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2013, talking about the show in which “Book of Mormon’s” Josh Gad plays Skip Gilchrist, hapless son of politically ambiguous president Bill Pullman and first lady Jenna Elfman.
Asked if they’d invite NBC personality Donald Trump — who’d threatened to run for president and was an outspoken critic of President Obama during the race — on the show, Lovett joked, “We don’t engage in hypotheticals.”
Elfman got asked which first lady — other than Michelle Obama — she most admires. “Anyone but her,” the critic said, noting that Dolley Madison, for instance, is said to have been the perfect hostess. (Elfman went with Eleanor Roosevelt for her gumption and Jackie Kennedy for her fashion sense.)
“I wonder if all of you could rank all 44 presidents,” asked another critic.
“Are there any issues that you worry about trivializing by reducing them to light family comedy?” asked yet another critic, noting that “Bill jokes, as President Obama has done in the real world, about using drones to take out his daughters’ romantic partners, even though the administration has actually killed teenage boys with drones overseas.”
“Well, this is heavy family comedy,” exec producer Jason Winer shot back.
Yet another critic seemed to have an issue with Elfman’s character being the president’s second wife and therefore stepmom to the first kids, wondering if there had ever been a president with a second wife.
“Ronald Reagan. Was that a trick question?” Gad asked, feigning innocence.
“You’ve got Google, right?” Elfman snapped at the critic.
When one critic wondered if they just wrote episodes up to a point, after which Gad takes off doing crazy stuff, Michael Royce said he’s read all of their reviews of the series.
“Some of you are d---s,” Gad weighed in.
One critic asked Gad why he took the role on this show.
“Money,” Gad said, adding, “I based my character on Malia, by the way.”
NBC Entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt came to Winter TV Press Tour 2013 to talk about his network’s remarkable ratings turnaround in the fall — from fourth place to first among the four English-language broadcast networks, the only one of the four that’s up compared with last season, and the only broadcast net with an audience median age younger than last year.
TV critics, on the other hand, wanted to talk to him about TV violence and its connection to the mass shootings at Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., and — paradoxically — why NBC was keeping its semiautomatics-vs.-swords drama “Revolution” off the air so long. They also wondered how Greenblatt expected ABC’s late-night host Jimmy Kimmel to fare when he moves to 11:35 p.m. on Tuesday, against NBC’s own Jay Leno, and how soon NBC planned to dump Leno.
“Obviously we were all stricken, as everyone was, with that horrible tragedy, as well as other tragedies we’ve seen over the last few years,” Greenblatt said.
But, he noted, there’s a lot more violence on cable TV, which is not so constrained by Federal Communications Commission regulations on these matters, and that NBC’s new serial-killer series “Hannibal” isn’t even on the air yet.
“I’m not a psychologist; I’m not sure you can make the leap from a show about serial killers causing the problem with violence in our country,” Greenblatt said.
“There are many other factors, from mental illness to guns.”
“Our children are growing up with these shows,” the critic despaired, noting “Hannibal” is just one of three serial-killer shows that will be in the lineup, including Fox’s upcoming “The Following” and Showtime’s “Dexter” (which Greenblatt used to oversee when he headed that pay-cable network).
“I think [CBS’s] ‘Criminal Minds’ is worse than ‘Dexter’ ever was,” Greenblatt countered.
“I don’t know that . . . you can make the cause-and-effect argument” about TV programming, Greenblatt insisted. But then he suggested that the critics “look to the movies and, dare I say, at video games” in their finger-pointing.
Meanwhile, reports of Leno’s departure are premature, Greenblatt said.
Noting that the network recently extended Leno’s contract, he said, “it would be disingenuous to extend it and at the same time talk about a succession plan.” Greenblatt was responding to reports that NBC had a plan in place to replace Leno with Jimmy Fallon at 11:35 p.m. when Leno’s contract comes up in a couple of years.
Trump’s behavior during the presidential campaign does not concern NBC, Greenblatt said when one TV critic suggested that it should.
“We live in this country where you can say anything you want as long as you are not harming other people,” Greenblatt said.
“We talked him out of running for president — wasn’t that enough?”
Of the 19 living White House chiefs of staff interviewed by filmmakers Gedeon and Jules Naudet (“9/11”) and exec producer/former ABC News guy Chris Whipple, for their two-night Discovery Channel program “The Presidents’ Gatekeepers,” Rahm Emanuel was the toughest interview.
“We have this extraordinary setup . . . called an Interrotron — the subject is looking into a monitor, and as the interviewer, I’m actually sitting off to the side behind a curtain looking at a monitor,” Whipple said.
Emanuel “took one look at this and said, ‘What the blank is this? This is like some contraption out of Guantanamo.’
“The only thing we could think to say was, ‘Well, maybe that’s why [Ford administration chief of staff Dick] Cheney stayed for five hours,’ ” Whipple said.
To read more from Winter TV Press Tour 2013, go to washingtonpost.com/tvblog.