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Hail to TV's commanders-in-chief!

Published December 26, 2012 9:11 am

Television • "1600 Penn" is the latest presidential series to make a run for the ratings.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At times, the 2012 presidential election seemed like TV's longest-running series. Sort of the Barack and Mitt (and Michelle and Herman and Newt and Jon and Ron and Rick and Rick) Show.

That show has, mercifully, concluded. But as President Obama prepares for his second term, NBC is set to inaugurate the Gilchrest administration.

The latest in a long line of fictional presidents, President Dale Gilchrest (Bill Pullman) presides over the sitcom "1600 Penn." But this first family is not exactly the first family of "The West Wing."

Sure, "West Wing" President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) had his share of family drama.

A daughter whose marriage was moved up to accommodate her pregnancy.

Another whose husband cheated on her. A strong-willed wife.

But President Gilchrest lives in a different world. And in a sitcom, not a drama.

His son Chip (Josh Gad) is a well-meaning idiot. His (second) wife, Emily (Jenna Elfman), is considerably younger and not exactly popular with her stepchildren.

His seemingly perfect daughter, Becca (Martha MacIsaac), is hiding a secret. And the twins, Xander (Benjamin Stockham) and Marigold (Amara Miller), are terrors.

There's a certain sweetness and some genuine laughs in "1600 Penn." How it ranks among the presidential TV shows to date remains to be seen. But here's a look at that list, from worst to first:

10. "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer" • (1999) UPN put a lot of bad shows on the air, but none were worse than this. Chi McBride starred as the black butler (slave?) in the Lincoln White House. And Lincoln was portrayed as a closeted gay and perhaps a pedophile. Really.

9. "Mr. President " • (1987-88) Back when Fox launched its broadcast network and was still trying to find its niche, it tried this sitcom with George C. Scott as chief executive/husband/father. Johnny Carson was a producer/creator, but this never really worked.

8. "Hail to the Chief" • (1985) This short-lived sitcom was just "Soap" in the White House — a zany sitcom with peculiar characters doing outlandish things. And at the top of the outlandish list back in the mid-1980s was making the president a woman (Patty Duke). Good effort, weak results.

7. "The Event" • (2010-11) President Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood) made a great TV chief executive. The fact that he was dealing with aliens from another planet in this up-and-down series didn't make for a great show.

6. "Commander in Chief" • (2005-06) This drama about the first female president (Geena Davis) had real possibilities — but the show kept switching directions (and producers) and quickly sank into mediocrity and disappeared off the schedule.

5. "Scandal" • (2012) This is a big soap opera (written by Shonda Rhimes of "Grey's Anatomy" fame) about the president (Tony Goldwyn) and his on-again, off-again mistress (Kerry Washington), a high-powered political/media "fixer." It's often silly — even ludicrous — but it's also fun to watch. (The second season of this show returns in January, airing on Thursdays at 9 p.m. on ABC-Channel 4.)

4. "24" • (2001-10) The show's first president, David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), was great; the last, Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), had her moments; the six in-between were unmemorable — except for President Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), one of TV's greatest villains.

3. "Political Animals" • (2012) This six-episode miniseries — kind-of, sort-of, based on Bill and Hillary Clinton — was smart and fun. And worth watching just for the scene in which the ex-president goes to the Oval Office, punches out the vice president, and the current president has to break it up.

2. "Jack & Bobby" • (2004-05) This vastly underrated family drama was about two brothers, one of whom (Logan Lerman) grew up to be president. Each episode somehow related to that future administration, which we got glimpses of in flash-forwards. It was a truly wonderful series.

1. "The West Wing" • (1999-2006) There's simply no question that this is the greatest presidential TV show of all time — and one of the best TV series ever. Period. Not only is Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) the best fictional president in TV history, but President Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) is No. 2 on that list.

spierce@sltrib.com

"1600 Penn"

NBC's presidential sitcom, which aired as a preview on Dec. 17, moves into its regular time slot on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 5.