'1600 Penn': Politics play second fiddle to funny family
Bill Pullman suspects that he's gotten "thousands" of offers to play a sitcom dad over the years, but it wasn't until a script for "1600 Penn," featuring a father who resides at a very familiar address -- the White House -- came across his desk that his curiosity was piqued.
"It's [always pitched] like it's a no-brainer, but I had no interest. But [the first family] is like royalty," said Pullman, wearing an all-too-familiar navy suit and American-flag lapel pin, as he took a seat in his new TV kitchen on the set of NBC's midseason comedy "1600 Penn" next to his new TV wife, Jenna Elfman. "It's higher stakes and more theatrical than a domestic story in another setting. There's an incredible contrast between public and private life. That's good for comedy."
Pullman on being called "Mr. President":
While an important element is the unique work-life setting and constant juxtaposition of the president as both the capable leader of the free world and a bumbling widowed father of four who recently remarried his campaign manager, Emily, Elfman is quick to remind potential viewers that the series puts family first. "The politics are a backdrop to tell a story about a family. There will be a drop of something, a domestic issue, just to feed the family story."
One example is a scene where a discussion about a potential terrorist cell with the generals in the Situation Room evolves into a solicitation for parenting advice by President Gilchrist. The show deals with everyday family issues like communication between spouses, a grown son moving home after he fails to figure out a career path at college, a stepmom trying to win over her stepchildren, an unplanned pregnancy, and many household accidents. "We try to keep things close to the chest and do a little damage control with all the family stuff, which I think all families do. It feels very close to my family. I'm always trying to put one public face forward. It never works," said Pullman, who also played a president in "Independence Day."
[Related: The Yo Show visits the '1600 Penn' set]
There is even a child questioning her sexuality. Sometimes so many ripped-from-the-headlines issues are happening at once that executive producer Mike Royce joked that the family seems as if "they might have had a reality show before this show. But every family is quirky and has insane people in it."
Unlike the average family, though, the Gilchrists go through all their highs and lows in the public eye. "The family stories become heightened to a whole new level, being in the White House," Elfman said. "Any little flap is a massive flap when the entire world is looking at you. I cannot imagine going from normal to having Secret Service around you at all times [while] trying to raise children and be a woman and wife and maintain your sanity."
Elfman on working with Josh Gad:
For those worried that "1600 Penn" will just feed the Republican-versus-Democrat fatigue or stir up residual issues from election 2012, executive producer/creator/star Josh Gad said, "As long as we are on the air, there will be no mention of this family's politics. We wanted to do a story about a dysfunctional family like any other in the most extraordinary circumstances underneath this microscope of the 24-hour news cycle."