Friday, October 28, 2005

The Right sees Hollywood conspiracy... these people really should be studied.

LIFE IMITATING ART?

Madame President on TV stirs political intrigue

By JULIE MASON
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

WASHINGTON - So the president averted a terrorist threat — and saved Halloween for trick-or-treaters.

A diplomatic coup by George W. Bush? No, the latest episode of Commander In Chief.

The new ABC television show, which stars Oscar winner Geena Davis as the first woman president, combines fantastical, geopolitical story lines with ordinary family drama.

Some conservatives denounce the show as a liberal Trojan horse for a 2008 presidential campaign by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Others find that laughable.

Either way, some 16 million viewers are tuning in each week to the administration of President Mackenzie Allen, and real politicians are to some extent taking it seriously.

"One can make the case that the show is giving the American public a notion of what it would be like to have a female president, but in a way that is a possible precursor for any female president, not just Hillary," said Garth Jowett, director of the University of Houston School of Communication and a political propaganda expert.

The intrepid President Allen, or "Mac" to her intimates, routinely juggles mutinous Cabinet members, bratty kids, foreign policy, political foes, terrorism and a slightly traumatized husband called "the first gentleman."

By the end of each hourlong episode, Mac always prevails, with peace restored in the residence and abroad and her power suits immaculate.

President Bush should have it so easy.

"I don't know what the biggest draw is — the idea of a woman president, a new way to exercise my pent-up political angst, or whether it's just gotten so depressing to watch this White House that I'd rather watch a fake one," said Josh Wachs, former chief operating officer of the Democratic National Committee and a loyal Commander In Chief viewer.

Scott Sandage, a social anthropologist at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, said part of the show's appeal is that many Americans view the White House as a secret and exciting place.

"Everybody knows that the public rooms in the White House are where nothing special happens," Sandage said. "It's the residence and the West Wing where the exciting things happen."

Mere coincidence?

Republicans see something else behind the scenes: a favorable, well-timed, Hollywood liberal treatment of a woman in charge of the free world.

"It is interesting that just as the beginnings of the primary are starting and Hillary (Clinton) is emerging as the front-runner in the Democrat Party, the entertainment industry is in full gear promoting the program," said Madeline Collier, vice chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.

Dionne Roberts, a Republican Houston political consultant, said she initially bought into the theory of a liberal plot in Commander In Chief, but now she doesn't care so much.

"It's pretty obvious, but really it's fine by me," Roberts said. "It would be exciting just to see that kind of (presidential) race."

A recurring nemesis of the show's president, a political independent, is Republican Nathan Templeton, the conniving speaker of the House played with arched eyebrows and operatic glee by Donald Sutherland.

"I like the idea of a woman president, but my favorite character is Donald Sutherland — he is so nasty and representative of what we all think is going on in the capital of the United States," said David Jones, a Democrat and host of the Red, White and Blue politics show on Houston public television.

White House insiders may sniff at some of the artistic license taken on the show. In Allen's Oval Office, the rug is deep blue and the lighting is always flattering. Bush's Oval is beige and the lighting makes it feel like an interrogation room.

The State Dining Room, tasteful and modest in real life, appeared in a Commander In Chief episode looking like a tacky, oversized hotel ballroom.

Rod Lurie, the show's creator, told reporters last summer that he wanted Commander In Chief to be different from NBC's The West Wing, in part by focusing more on family.

Battling first son

In the last episode, first son Horace got into a fight with kids at school who mocked his sweater-clad father as "a wuss." Later, in a confrontation with his father in the White House kitchen, Horace yelled, "You're a national joke, Dad!"

The network recently announced that Lurie will be replaced by veteran producer Steven Bochco, former helmsman of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue. It's widely expected that Bochco will put an edgier, more realistic spin on the show.

Before stepping down as executive producer, Lurie told reporters that if Clinton does get the nomination in 2008, "We are all taking the credit."

It's that kind of talk that has Internet blogs and some elements of conservative talk radio up in arms. Rush Limbaugh was exercised after Davis went on Oprah and talked about feeling "honored" walking onto the show's Oval Office set on the first day of shooting. "It's a TV show!" Limbaugh said.

Neal Boortz, a syndicated radio host based in Atlanta, wrote on his Web site that a lot of listeners have been phoning in wondering whether the show is an overt setup for Clinton.

Among other damning bits of evidence, the show has made reference to Clinton. One of the show's writers once worked for Clinton. And Davis has given money to former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and the Democratic Party.

Clinton has not said whether she is running.

How ready is America for a woman president? A new WNBC/Marist Poll found that Clinton is the clear front-runner for the 2008 Democratic nomination, favored by 41 percent of party voters. Among Republicans, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has said she will not run, is tied with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani with 21 percent.

Houston Chronicle reporter Mike McDaniel contributed to this report.

julie.mason@chron.com

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.mpl/nation/3419140

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