How the rise of fictional female presidents on TV matched with the rise of the reality of a Hillary Clinton presidencyand sometimes hurt the cause as much as it helped it. “>
The year was 1985 and, for the first time, there was a woman in the Oval Office.
It was Patty Duke, the first actress to play a fictional female president in a U.S. television series, the sitcom Hail to the Chief.
Duke played a working woman, but there’s trouble on the home front! teased an ABC promo for the sitcom. When Dukes frustrated husband, played by That Girls Ted Bessell, complained that his friend has a working wife but she still manages to get home at a decent hour, Duke responds, She opened a boutique. Im president of the United States!
It was a fish-out-of-water comedy; a sitcom in which the notion of a female president was so preposterous the very idea was, in large part, the joke. It was canceled after seven episodes.
In the three decades since Hail to the Chief, TV has seen fictional female presidents used as narrative gimmicks, fantastical plot twists, and for probing provocation. But now, with the prospect of a woman leading the country a real possibility, women in power are beamed into our living rooms on our favorite series on a regular and, more importantly, normative basis.
Scouring that history of TVs female presidents and the evolution of how theyre portrayed in the weeks before America decides whether to elect is first female president certainly raises the question of how television has made us ready for Hillary.
Frankly, I think shes bigger than TV, says Tom Nunan, a lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. I think the role is reversed. I think she has really influenced film and television more than its influenced the acceptance of her.
There’s an impulse, of course, to scoff at the suggestion that television and its depiction of certain characters could influence culture or politics in such a profound way. But it would be foolish to deny the power of, say, Norman Lears body of work (All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, One Day at a Time) in challenging TV fans race and gender biases.
Vice President Joe Biden has gone so far as to credit Will and Grace with advancing mainstream acceptance of gay rights. Even recently, with the public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner, the visibility of Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox, and the accolades for Amazons Transparent, I think you can really point to the fact that a lot of people had their consciousness raised by televisions representation of transgender people, says Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University.