My problem with this is not content - I liked the show - but I take issue with the insinuation that the cancellation is because the title character is female. That's a crock. It's ratings. She could be a hermaphrodite.... Well, she might be... but that's a subject for a later date.. I still contend it's the red lipstick... Enjoy....
'Commander in Chief' too good to be true
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Remember when we were told that a woman who wanted the top job had to be twice as good as a man? The first woman in any post would be inspected with a microscope and dismissed for the smallest flaw.
Now the first woman president of the United States of Television has failed to get a second term, excuse me, a second season, because she was too good to be true. Is this progress? Or is it yet another double bind?
Next week, the last episode of Commander in Chief will air. Geena Davis' star turn as the first woman president was heralded as a breakthrough in the fall. Marie Wilson, the unsinkable cheerleader of the White House Project, said that the television series could "hurry history." The bloggers harrumphed that it could "hurry Hillary."
There was the hope that Commander in Chief could do for women in the Oval Office what Will and Grace did for gays in your office. "We have to visualize a woman president in office before we can have one," said former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin. See her on TV; see her in real life.
Mackenzie Allen got to the ABC White House virtually untainted by politics. She was a college president and an independent picked to be vice president by a conservative Republican candidate trying to attract women voters. Talk about your fantasy figures.
After the president's death, she overcame opposition, self-doubt, a male chauvinist pig of a politician and a sabotaged teleprompter to win over the hearts of the American people. She also won favor with the real public, garnering 16.9 million viewers in the first two episodes.
Of course, our gal Mac suffered some of the blows familiar to women in politics. Like every female candidate with a hemline and a hairdo, more media attention was paid to her appearance than her position papers. "She looks like she's wearing those red wax lips they sell for Halloween," hissed Washington Post critic Tom Shales. If there's a woman behind every great man, the men behind this great woman were her undoing.
The creator and first writer, Rod Lurie, was less disciplined than Bill Clinton. He couldn't get the shows done on time. His replacement, Steven Bochco, never could decide if this series was about the First Female leader or the First Mom. And the network honchos managed to jerk the most powerful woman from one time slot to another until her approval ratings sank to the level of the real president's.
But the real problem fell into the be-careful-what-you-wish-for category. Lurie wanted his first woman president to be someone of "unimpeachable integrity, very kind, very calm." And, alas, he got it.
She was an accidental rather than ambitious politician. Instead of the crackling wise-guy dialogue of The West Wing, with its flawed staffers, its docudramas, compromises and no-win situations, we got a woman, noble and principled, strong and caring, apolitical and perfectly unbelievable.
Singlehandedly, as First Woman and Working Mom saving America from terrorists and saving Halloween for the kids, she brought the late, unlamented, superwoman cartoon out of retirement and into the White House.
Yes, it's possible that any network executive now shown a script starring a powerful woman will offer that fateful judgment: "We already tried one!" But on the other hand, Commander in Chief may have truly hurried history.
The opening of the TV show was accompanied by a survey that showed 79 percent of the public was comfortable with "a woman" in the White House. We have long assumed that comfort zone would shrink when "a woman" got a name and a face and a flaw.
But what if the public is ahead of the punditry again? Am I allowed the optimistic view that the closing of this show suggests perversely that the American public may be more ready to see and accept women as both individuals and imperfect?
Katie Couric just ascended the CBS throne, gravitas be damned. The female politicians on a firstname basis with the American public - Condi! Hillary! - have been attacked and still survived in the rough arena. Both carry baggage from standing by their man, be he George or Bill. Both have played politics, real politics, party politics. And both are at least as qualified as "fresh faces" such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Virginia's Democratic Gov. Mark Warner.
So here's where we stand as they play taps for Commander in Chief. The first female politician may no longer have to be too good to be true. Thank you, Mackenzie Allen, we already tried that. Maybe she just has to be better than the guys running against her.
That's a reality show I'm ready for.
Ellen Goodman writes for The Boston Globe. [email protected]