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Turning the spotlight on TV's first families

Posted Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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1600 Penn

8:30 p.m. Thursday

KXAS/Channel 5

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Josh Gad, the star and co-creator of 1600 Penn, wants to make this perfectly clear:

The White House family in his new sitcom, premiering at 8:30 p.m. Thursday on NBC, is not modeled after the Obamas.

Now that that's settled, everyone in America can respond with a collective, "Well, duh!"

Because isn't that already obvious?

President Dale Gilchrist (played by Bill Pullman) and wife Emily (Jenna Elfman) more closely resemble Mitt and Ann Romney than they do the first couple.

And the last time we checked, there was no goofball first son residing in the White House, setting accidental fires in the Rose Garden and inciting international incidents with visiting dignitaries.

If a real-life Skip Gilchrist (Gad's character) was wreaking that kind of havoc in Washington, you had better believe the 24-hour news networks would be on top of the story.

Still, it's fun to imagine a comedic wild man -- a John Belushi, a John Candy, a Jack Black or a Josh Gad...yes, he wields that kind of manic energy -- throwing decorum to the wind and doing a belly flop in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

"The Obama family is almost supernaturally perfect -- and perfection doesn't really lead to comedy," says Gad, a Tony Award nominee for his performance in Broadway's The Book of Mormon.

"But you can look at some of the presidential predecessors and you can see dysfunction in the halls of the White House for at least 100 years.

"And what's so interesting now is, under the scrutiny of the 24-hour news cycle, what happens if a dysfunctional family were to be front and center? How do you avoid the blitzkrieg of questions?"

1600 Penn isn't the first TV series to explore this premise, although inside-the-White-House shows aren't always played for laughs.

Here are some fictional White House types that television cemented in our memories.

The Idealist

Jed Bartlet of The West Wing

Josiah Edward "Jed" Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) was the president that many American viewers wished they could have had. His administration was all about noble causes and making government work for the people. Among his accomplishments: He created millions of new American jobs, masterminded Social Security reform and brokered a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine.

The Martyr

David Palmer of 24

It has been said that Palmer (played by Dennis Haysbert) had so much credibility and commanding presence as an African-American president that Barack Obama benefited when he ran in real life. Alas, a world that needed counterterrorism expert Jack Bauer to save every day was not a good world in which to be president. Palmer barely survived an assassination attempt in Season 2 and was gunned down at the beginning of Season 5.

The Trail Blazer

Mackenzie Allen of Commander in Chief

Vice President "Mac" Allen (played by Geena Davis) became the first female president after the death of her running mate just a year and a half into his term. Her work was at times sabotaged by sexist misgivings about a woman's ability to lead, but Allen was a scrapper. The show was canceled after one season and we haven't had a female president yet, so maybe she wasn't as convincing a sell as Palmer was.

The Schemer

Charles Logan of 24

President Logan (played by Gregory Itzin) was a petty man wielding big power, a dangerous combination. At first, Logan has us fooled. Viewers believed he was an ineffectual, indecisive leader. Only later did we discover that he was involved in President Palmer's murder and a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The snake kept trying to wipe his hands clean by pinning the blame on Jack Bauer.

Honorable mention

Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the taken-for-granted vice president on Veep.

Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver), secretary of state and former first lady in Political Animals.

Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (Tony Goldwyn), adulterous president being blackmailed in Scandal.

Zoey Bartlet (Elizabeth Moss), presidential daughter, once kidnapped, on The West Wing.

Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood), president with Cuban roots on The Event.

Abbey Bartlet (Stockard Channing), first lady and Harvard-trained physician, on The West Wing.

Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson Jerald), duplicitous first lady, constantly grasping for power, on 24.

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