Geena Davis returns to TV in Fall 2005. This star has two tallest tasks of any actor this fall: Leading the free world, and preserving ABC's momentum

By Nicholas Fonseca
September 02, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

DEBUTS SEPTEMBER 27 ABC 9-10 PM

Concentrate hard enough, and you can almost smell newsprint, hours-old takeout, and sweaty brows when you walk into the ”bullpen” — a tiny replica of the underlit, chaotic den where real-life White House reporters file stories in a mad rush — at the Hollywood studio that houses the eerily realistic sets for ABC’s new political drama Commander in Chief. One bit player who worked in that very room during the Carter era says he almost lost his breath the first time he walked onto the Chief set, though a quick peek at the white pegboard lining the entryway dispels any notions of verisimilitude: Phone numbers for Pol Pot, Mary Richards, and Deep Throat (202-555-1212, in case you’re wondering) are scrawled on the wall, a wink-wink nod to the fact that nothing happening here is actually real.

Not that the folks gathered near the doorway need much reminding at the moment: The President of the United States is barreling toward the bullpen in high heels, ready to open a giant can of whupass. No, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t morphed into Plato’s Retreat — it’s just finally caught up with the 21st century: Geena Davis returns to TV as Chief‘s Mackenzie Allen, the USA’s first female president and a soccer mom-cum-politico who, right now, needs these journalists to stop badgering her two teenage children. ”I get that it’s fun, it’s endearing, and it’s marketable,” she says, her voice crisp and her eyes darting back and forth. ”The one thing it isn’t is news. This is not Mac the president talking. This is Mac the mom. DON’T mess with my kids.” She’s convincing, controlling, and, yes, even a little bit scary.

Almost as scary as knowing that red-hot ABC is counting on your show to become its Next Great Drama.

Davis is an internationally recognized actress who has the gravitas — and, at six feet, the stature — necessary for her new role, but she’s had virtually no success on TV: She starred in two short-lived sitcoms before her film career took off in the mid-’80s; her much-ballyhooed 2000 ABC comedy, The Geena Davis Show, was endlessly derided by critics. (Viewers weren’t feeling it either, and it was canceled within a year.) But Davis doesn’t bite when asked if the high-profile failure soured her on returning to the medium. ”I was disappointed that they didn’t renew it, but…whatever,” she says. ”I would have traded that one for this one in a heartbeat.”

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