The first thing the creators of “1600 Penn” want you to know is that — title and setting notwithstanding — their new NBC sitcom isn't about politics. It's about a family.
“There are shows that are doing (political comedy) brilliantly, like ‘Veep,' and past shows that have done that dramatically, like ‘West Wing.' This is neither of those shows,” says executive producer Josh Gad, who also stars as chaos-inducing first son Skip Gilchrist in the series, which gets a sneak preview at 8:30 p.m. Monday, before settling into its 8:30 p.m. Thursday time slot in January.
“Our show isn't a White House show that happens to be about a family, it's a show about a family that happens to live at the White House.”
“In the entire series, in fact, we are unlikely ever to use the words ‘Republican' or ‘Democrat' in any context,” said executive producer and show runner Jason Winer, who co-created the series with Gad and former White House speechwriter Jon Lovett, “because the focus of the show is on the family, and the political life serves to heighten and add pressure and make more fun for the family stories that we are doing.”
The family at the heart of “1600 Penn” is the Gilchrists. President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman) was a widower with four children when he met and fell in love with Emily Nash (Jenna Elfman), a political consultant hired to run his campaign for governor of Nevada. Now married to Dale, Emily is struggling to assert herself in her new roles as both first lady and stepmom.
As the story opens, Dale is still in the early months of his administration, so he's a little disengaged from family matters — until a revenge-of-the-nerds prank on Skip's part forces him to leave college (he's now in his seventh year) and return home to the nest, which has become a media fishbowl.
“He has the heart of a teddy bear and some of the social skills of an oaf, but when you mix them together, you get this sweet and lovable teddy oaf,” Gad says.
In a very real sense, “family” has been an important word with this show from the get-go, since Winer first met Gad when the actor was auditioning to play Cameron on “Modern Family.” He ultimately removed himself from contention to accept a role in “The Book of Mormon,” for which Gad received a Tony Award nomination, but he and Winer stayed in touch and kept talking about finding a mutual project.