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'1600 Penn' showcases Oval Office, Josh Gad

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm •  Published: February 6, 2013
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The reason is simple, Brooks said.

"Controversy and selling cars and soap don't go together very well. Sponsors usually run from that sort of thing," he said. Networks, whether broadcast or basic cable, "don't want to take chances to alienate advertisers."

Premium cable network can be bolder, which is why HBO is home to "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin's new drama "The Newsroom." Series star Jeff Daniels plays an anchor who's emboldened to uncover the "truth" — largely consisting of a left-winger's dream agenda.

Even in the goofy "1600 Penn," one person's comedy may be another's political zinger. The Gilchrists' fight for education reform pitted them against a racist, sexist senator, Frohm Thoroughgood (guest star Stacy Keach), whose name is an obvious play on the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, a Southern Republican who was an outspoken segregationist.

And although the president and family in "1600 Penn" bear no resemblance to the Obama White House, there is a thread connecting them: Jon Lovett, one of its creators and producers, worked as a speechwriter for President Barack Obama.

Don't jump to conclusions, cautioned Lovett, who left a fledgling stand-up comedy career to work for Obama (after a stint with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton).

"I wouldn't have done it ('1600 Penn') if it was a political show," said Lovett, who said he was eager to return to entertainment and leave Washington behind.

Can he really resist the chance to showcase his point of view? "You would be right to be incredulous. ... I am a political person and I have strong opinions," he said, but added, "I guess that's what Twitter's for."

Both conservatives and liberals should be able to watch the sitcom and laugh, Lovett said.

The ratings so far have been short of a landslide, although there is promise: The most recent episode drew 3.3 million viewers, which was an 8 percent increase over the previous week. (In comparison, top-rated comedy "The Big Bang Theory" on CBS reliably hits double-digit numbers.)

Will that be enough to win the sitcom another TV term? Given polling that shows widespread dissatisfaction with Washington, Brooks wonders how much time viewers want to spend there.

"Even if it's comedy and slapstick, it's just a place we don't like very much," he said. "It's like having a sitcom in a sausage factory. We just don't want to know."

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Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org and on Twitter (at)lynnelber.