Electioneering for 'Jack & Bobby'
'The notion that anybody can be president'
By Porter Anderson
(CNN) -- Smart viewers of The WB's premiere of its new drama "Jack & Bobby" will be in place a minute early on Sunday evening to listen right from the 9 p.m. ET open and pick up some of the slickest subtleties of the hour.
It's the year 2049 in this ersatz documentary, and a Harvard scholar is talking about the special complexities that have gone into White House personalities. Listen for references to a President Spencer Harvey and his "resignation in the wake of corporate scandal." The image going by is of a black president. And there's a mention of "President Helm's visit to Africa after the plague of 2018." The chief executive you're seeing is a woman.
In short order, the show switches to our time and to Hart, Missouri, in which teen brothers Jack and Bobby are growing up. One of them, in 2040, will become a president remembered as "the great believer."
"The thing we always loved the most when we pitched this," says the show's co-creator and co-writer Brad Meltzer, "was that you were going to see this character before he made his way to the finish line" at the Oval Office. "We wanted to let you see the past and the future at the same time. The connections? -- always meant to be challenging.
"We may hate our politicians, but the one thing we all have in common is that we were all once children," he continues. "We can all relate to that question, 'How did I get here?' We don't ask ourselves that big question everyday, but you know what? We should."
The title "Jack & Bobby" is meant by the show's creative team to signal to you concepts of political brothers. But that's as far as it goes. (Eye on Entertainment: Mixing family and politics)
The resulting show -- "still amazing to me how it all came together," Meltzer says as he works now on the script for the seventh episode -- gives you two brothers "who understand each other. The more you know about Bobby, the more you know about Jack. It's two brothers, one dream. This is their story."
And you're asked in several ways as the program starts spinning out the brothers' relationship whether you could spot a "Jack & Bobby" if you were growing up with them. "The middle of the story is always a giant question mark," Meltzer says. "That's what's so appealing here is getting to see that middle."
Mr. Meltzer goes to Washington
No stranger to the Beltway's attractions for people whose formative years we never see, Meltzer is known among his fans as a specialist in Washington novels. His fifth, "The Zero Game" (Warner Books), became a fast bestseller this past winter with its worrisome tale of Capitol Hill betting amid congressional staffers.
Readers love Meltzer's zeal for real-life detail, particularly integral to "The First Counsel" (Warner Books), which involves presidential daughters.
Christine Lahti shines in the role of Grace McCallister, the mother to "Jack & Bobby."
You may also know Meltzer as the writer behind "Identity Crisis," DC Comics' new-this-summer 12-part Justice League murder mystery in which, Meltzer has promised his fans, a superhero will die (and not come back to life -- you remember that Superman business).
As big a year as it is for Meltzer, he says it's the timing of these various projects' releases that make him appear more ubiquitous than he feels. Many months of work, for example, led up to the January publication of "The Zero Game," and the "Identity Crisis" comic book series was written a year ago.
"And 'Jack & Bobby' started two years ago," he says, when he and collaborator Steve Cohen conceived of it with an eye to "those 'Future President' T-shirts you see sold in airports for kids."
The concept impressed Thomas Schlamme of "The West Wing," who took it to the "Everwood" creative team, Greg Berlanti and Vanessa Taylor. With Meltzer and Cohen now supervising producers on the show, Schlamme and Berlanti are executive producers with Mickey Liddell, and Taylor is co-executive producer and co-writer with Meltzer.
No one is likely to miss the jewel of a role generated by this ensemble for actress Christine Lahti as Jack and Bobby's mother Grace. Jack McCallister is played by Matt Long and Bobby by Logan Lerman.
'The greatest people can be seated right next to you'
For all the Washington power-playful hijinks that Meltzer has developed as a novelist, this work arrives some 50 days before the 2004 presidential election with an unabashed idealism that campaign-battered viewers and voters may find soothing.
"We have a show that says sometimes the greatest people can be seated right next to you. The notion that anybody can be president is something we need to get back to.
"The funny thing is that even in 'The Zero Game,' I think the journey is always toward the hopeful. That's always the lesson of what I work on."
And how does a man accustomed to the solitary creative tasks of novel writing adjust to the collaborative nature of television?
"I'm excited just to start my new novel," Meltzer says, declining to give any details about it yet. "You always come back to what you love. I love the novel. And you know what? I love it because I'm in control of it. When you do a TV show so much is out of your control. That's OK, it's a different medium. And I spent a month out there" in California (Meltzer is based in Florida), "learning how a TV show is made. It was amazing to see how that works.
"But I just love the written word. I love to paint with the written word."
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