’1600 Penn’: Five Things You Should Know

by | December 28, 2012 at 12:29 PM | 1600 Penn

'1600 Penn' (Photo: NBC)

If you missed the sneak peek of “1600 Penn,” NBC’s new family comedy set in the White House,” you can check it out when it premieres in its regular time slot on Thursday, January 10. Starring Bill Pullman as President Dale Gilchrist, the series takes a funny look at what happens behind the scenes as Gilchrist tries to juggle the duties of President of the United States with his duties as the father of four — sometimes out of control — children and as husband to his second wife Emily (Jenna Elfman).

“We thought: What is an amazing contrasting place to putting a bull in a china shop and we thought the White House is kind of the biggest china shop there is,” explains creator/executive producer Jason Winer, who created the project with Josh Gad, who also does a very funny turn as the president’s oldest son, Skip. “We thought: Can we do that convincingly? Can we do that with nuance and detail? The answer was no. That is when we went and met Jon Lovett, who was coming off of three years being a presidential speech writer and had just landed here in Hollywood. We thought: He is super green in terms of this world but he knows so much about the world we are attempting to write about.’”

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With the three men putting their heads together, they came up with the format for “1600 Penn.” Now, they share five things you should know about the series before tuning in.

No. 1: How much does the “1600 Penn” White House resemble the real White House?

Elements from both the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama Oval Offices have been combined to create President Dale Gilchrest’s Oval Office. The show recently had a visit from David Axelrod, a political consultant to President Bill Clinton and a senior advisor to President Obama, who commented on some of the similarities during a tour of the set.

“What you don’t know about [the Oval Office] is it is to scale,” says Winer. “The rug, for example, draws inspiration from several administrations. Each new administration that comes in gets the honor of redesigning the White House. It is an honor given to the First Lady to design it for her husband. It is an antiquated tradition but a cool one nonetheless. We tried to imagine what our First Lady Emily Gilchrest would design for her husband, so that is the look of this Oval Office. The rug is a combination inspired by the George W. Bush rug, which introduced the sunburst pattern for the first time, and the Obama rug, which introduced the idea of a quotation around the rug, so we used both of those ideas and combined them in ours.”

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No. 2: Are the characters based on anyone?

No one specific person is the model for either President or First Lady Gilchrest, although Elfman did read some books about first ladies to find the common denominators among them. She says what she discovered is there is no rule book for the first lady, so she based some of the character on herself.

“All these people are comprised of the parts of people, whether they have been first ladies or just people in politics that I have met,” says Lovett. “I remember when we were first talking to Jenna about the role, I was thinking about a lot of the women I met in politics, who were just incredible — the leaders of the many campaigns I have been on. I drew on those examples to find this character. For Bill, we are trying to find different presidential aspects that we can draw on.”

No. 3: The pilot was focused on Skip. Will future episodes continue with him as the center of attention or is this truly an ensemble show?

The reason that the pilot features Skip, as opposed to the other characters, is when Gad and Winer first created the series, they started with what they knew, but it is an ensemble show, similar to “Modern Family” in that some weeks there is more emphasis on one character than another, but the next week that changes.

“The fun we have had in the writers room is finding new ways to shake up this family, but it is a grand tour. Everybody has their time to shine,” Lovett says.

As for the three younger Gilchrest children, Lovett says, “They do fall a little bit into the background in the pilot. That was just a necessity born of introducing all these characters, but the kids are there and in a couple of episodes, they will each have their own story where they are more prominent and we learn more about them.”

No. 4: Will there be flashbacks so we find out how the president and first lady met and got married?

Instead of flashbacks like we saw of Skip in college, there will be snippets here and there that reveal their past and how they came together.

“One of the things that was important to us about the Emily character is to have a first lady who has her own gravitas, has her own career, her own achievements and who was successful in her own right,” says Lovett. “The way we thought to do that was giving her this political career, which was how she and Dale met to begin with. She is this savvy person who helped him get to where he is. The basic idea with her character is she is somebody who is incredibly accomplished but the only place she has really struggled is to find her way in this family. That is the core of that.”

No. 5: Will Skip have a love interest?

We have seen what a big, fun-loving lug Skip was in his many years in college, but in the pilot, he didn’t have a serious girlfriend. While that may not change in the first season, Skip does set his sights on someone.

“Skip does have an on-again, off-again love interest throughout the first season,” Winer says. “You meet her early on. She is played by Susan Park. She is a very awkward wallflower who works in the mailroom, and Skip thinks she is the greatest thing in the world. He paints her with a very romantic brush and is constantly freaking her out with his overly romantic gestures.

“1600 Penn” premieres Thursday, January 10 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.