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The Powers That Be aired from March 1992 until June 1993 on NBC.

It is unclear whether Democratic setbacks in the 1994 congressional elections were related to this ribald parody of Washington insiders, featuring an idiotic Democratic senator and his disfunctional family. But it couldn't have helped. Senator William Powers ( John Forsythe) was a 26-year veteran of Capital Hill, a distinguished- looking very charming, and totally vacuous ally of Bill Clinton ( who was referred to but seldom seen). He was probably harmless by himself since he didn't have a clue as to what was going on, but his manipulative family and staff were something else. Margaret ( Holland Taylor) was his imperious status-obsessed wife; Caitlin ( Valerie Mahaffey) his vein neurotic daughter; Theodore ( David Hyde Pierce) his suicidal son-in-law, a little noticed U.S. Congressman; Jordan ( Eve Gordon) his scheming administrative assistant and mistress; Bradley ( Peter MacNicol) his counterscheming , incompetent press secretary; and Charlotte ( Elizabeth Berridge) the skinny, bumbling maid.

The only remotely normal people around the Power's elegant town house were Sophie ( Robin Bartlett), the senator's illegitament daughter from a wartime tyrist and a breath of fresh air with forthright New Yawk opinions and Pierce ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Caitlin and Theo's young son, whom they dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy ( in case their was a photo op) but who just wanted to go play.

Stories revolved mostly around family and staff's efforts to boost the senator's sagging image and/or trump each other, usually with disastrous results. The series did not last long enough for viewers to learn what happened to Powers and Van Horne in the 1994 elections, but one can almost guess.

After the series was abruptly canceled in early January 1993, several episodes not aired by NBC were telecast on the USA Cable Network on January 19, just before ( the real) Bill Clinton's innauguration. A few more episodes turned up on NBC the following summer.

Norman Lear was the Executive Producer of this series.

A Review from The New York Times

TV Weekend; Norman Lear's Comedy On Life in Washington

Published: March 6, 1992

Washington certainly deserves a few good satirical pokes these days. The targets are everywhere, ranging from loonily optimistic economic forecasts to shabby personal scandals, not to mention international vomiting incidents. Yet prime-time television has been curiously hesitant about zinging politics and politicians. For the most part, refreshingly nasty humor is relegated to late-night formats like NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Things could be changing with this weekend's premiere -- on NBC tomorrow at 8:30 P.M. -- of "The Powers That Be," a new series from Norman Lear's Act III Television workshop. The show, created by Marta Kauffman and David Crane, is in the off-the-wall mode of humor that worked so well for Susan Harris's "Soap" some 15 years ago. It may very well be the only mode that can do Washington full justice.

The very first routine, before the opening credits, sets the tone. Faith Daniels of the "Today" show is reporting a major election upset in the Northeast with the defeat of William Powers, ending his 26-year career as a Senator on Capitol Hill. His wife has left him. Children spit at him on the street. Then the good Senator wakes from his nightmare, turning for comfort to the woman sleeping next to him.

She: You're as moral as any man in this town.

He: Oh hell, I've got to call my wife.

Bill Powers is played by a relaxed and bemused John Forsythe, who seems thoroughly relieved to put his "Dynasty" days behind him. At home, Bill presides over what looks like the picture-perfect political family. That's only on the surface, of course. His relentlessly overbearing wife, Margaret (Holland Taylor), spends a great deal of time battering her cowed maid, Charlotte (Elizabeth Berridge) for perceived infractions. ("I found this lint ball on one of the guest towels," or, "Charlotte, dear, I believe I saw a thumb print on the etagere.") At a quick glance, Margaret might be easily mistaken for a recent First Lady notoriously partial to red dresses.

Bill's whining daughter, Caitlyn (Valerie Mahaffey), is anorexic, insisting that she's still just a size 3. Her miserable husband, Theodore (David Pierce), a Congressman, is suicidal and keeps trying to hide his wrist bandages. Their young son, Pierce (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), kept around for photo opportunities, tries desperately not to look embarrassed. On the professional sidelines are Jordan Miller (Eve Gordon), Bill's administrative assistant and sometime bed partner, and Bradley Grist (Peter MacNichol), the press secretary who, pondering a suggestion to ignore the polls, gasps that "it's so crazy, it might work!"

Into this tweedy pit of schemers and scoundrels comes Sophie Lipkin (Robin Bartlett). Not only is she Jewish, which sets Margaret on edge, but she is also Bill's daughter, a love child from a liaison with a nurse during the Korean War. Loud and breezily vulgar, Sophie sends most of the inner circle into a state of shock, but Bill soon comes to appreciate her blunt honesty. Meanwhile, Margaret prepares to welcome into her home members of the press, all of whom she heartily despises. "Why," she asks, "would I serve cold roast turkey to people who would happily eat a sock on rye if it were free?"

The scattershot approach of "The Powers That Be" has its dangers. Some of the barbs are tasteless, if not downright offensive. That's part of outrageousness territory. But the basic mix is promising, and the producers clearly have a bead on the more absurd aspects of contemporary politics. Being just crazy enough, it might work. Capitol Critters ABC Saturdays at 8 P.M.

As it happens, another series that is supposed to be tweaking Washington is also broadcast on Saturdays, at 8 P.M. on ABC (except this weekend when a repeat of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" television pilot has pre-empted the series). The animated show, "Capitol Critters," produced at Hanna-Barbera Studios, comes out of Steven Bochco Productions. The Bochco name has figured prominently in such top series as "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and, most recently, "Civil Wars." Question: What is he doing involved with a dud like "Capitol Critters"?

An assortment of mice, rats and roaches living beneath the White House is evidently supposed to be telling us something about life in Washington these days. Instead, they seem bent on doing second-rate imitations of the old "Tom and Jerry" cartoons. The producers have described the series as "potentially illuminating." Not in this century, boys and girls. The Powers That Be A comedy series created by Marta Kauffman and David Crane; produced by Patricia Fass Palmer for Act III Television, Castle Rock Entertainment and Columbia Pictures Television; Norman Lear, Charlotte Brown and Mark E. Pollack, executive producers. Saturdays at 8:30 P.M. on NBC. William Powers . . . John Forsythe Margaret Powers . . . Holland Taylor Jordan Miller . . . Eve Gordon Bradley Grist . . . Peter MacNicol Sophie Lipkin . . . Robin Bartlett Caitlyn . . . Valerie Mahaffey Theodore . . . Davie Pierce Pierce . . . Joseph Gordon-Levitt Charlotte . . . Elizabeth Berridge

A Review from Entertainment Weekly

TV Review
SUPER 'POWERS' (1992 - 1993)
Sitcom Master Norman Lear Returns to Prime Time with Powers That Be, A Spirited, Satirical Take on the Laissez-faire Life of a Veteran U.S. Senator

By Ken Tucker

Who'd have thought that after all these years producer Norman Lear would have enough bile left in him to oversee a series as energetically nasty as The powers that be (NBC, March 7, 8:30-9:30 p.m.)? This low-down satire of Washington politics and the American family offers the broad laughs and sly cunning of a first-rate Broadway farce; Lear has directed the show's debut episode, complete with intricately choreographed slamming-door exits. After the dismal failure of Lear's mirthless CBS sitcom Sunday Dinner last year, the snap and vigor of The Powers That Be is startling. Dynasty's John Forsythe stars as William Powers, an ineffectual but good- hearted senator from an unnamed New England state. After 26 years on Capitol Hill, Powers has an easy work load and a gorgeous Georgetown brownstone, as well as the passionate devotion of both his tough, ambitious wife, Margaret (Bosom Buddies' Holland Taylor), and the beautiful administrative assistant who is also his mistress, Jordan (Almost Grown's Eve Gordon). & An amiable dimwit, Powers also dotes on the attention he receives from his daughter, Caitlyn (Valerie Mahaffey), who's all smiles for Daddy but who is actually so fiercely demanding that she regularly drives her neurotically depressed congressman husband, Theo-dore (David Pierce), to attempt suicide. Pulling down Theodore's jacket sleeves to cover his wrists, Caitlyn says primly, ''Your bandages are showing.'' Powers is blissfully unaware of all the deviousness, pain, and power brokering that surrounds him; he's a happy fellow who sold out to everyone around him long ago. Short of being asked by Joe Biden to help grill a controversial Supreme Court nominee, what could go wrong in his awfully good life? Well, just as Powers is about to announce his new Senate run, Sophie Lipkin (Robin Bartlett) shows up. This bold 37-year-old working-class woman announces she's Powers' long-lost love child, the result of an affair he had during the Korean War. Margaret, Jordan, and Caitlyn view Sophie with horror- as the skeleton in Powers' closet who will ruin the senator's political future and, by extension, their lives. Powers, on the other hand, welcomes Sophie into his roomy house as one of his own. Lear and the show's creators, Marta Kaufman and David Crane (the duo behind HBO's Dream On), don't shy away from the fact that Sophie is a lively Jewish woman invading an uptight WASP household. On All in the Family, Lear used Archie Bunker's bigotry to both elicit laughs and expose its venality. Here, Margaret refers to Sophie as a ''Jewess'' with immense disdain, and it's clear the Lear crew wants to take a poke at both anti-Semitism and Reaganesque conservatism: Liberal Sophie urges her father to vote for a day-care bill his advisers had nixed. Indeed, Sophie is supposed to be the comic element that sets The Powers That Be in motion and gives the show its heart. But instead, in the two epi- sodes I've seen, she's the one who drags it down. Sophie is written as a pushy whiner, a dreary voice of conscience and dull common sense-I felt sorry for Bartlett, stuck in this drab role. The rest of the cast, however, has a great time. Forsythe has pulled off a career-reviving coup similar to the one Leslie Nielsen achieved with the Naked Gun movies; Bill Powers is Blake Carrington as a lovable dunderhead. It's obvious that Bill and Margaret are supposed to remind us of the revisionist image of Ronald and Nancy Reagan: a harmless duffer manipulated by his steely wife. Of course, this bit of satire arrives on TV about 10 years too late, but it's still wickedly funny. Holland Taylor makes Margaret's hatefulness exhilarating; her class snobbishness and iron will-to-power results in a great running joke that's going to offend lots of viewers-Margaret's ongoing abuse of the family maid, Charlotte (Amadeus' Elizabeth Berridge). Early in the debut episode, Margaret, her teeth clenched in fury, tells Charlotte she has found ''a lint ball on one of the guest towels.'' Charlotte, dow-dy and meek, just stares blankly at her employer. Then Margaret's hand flashes out and she slaps Charlotte, hard. It quickly becomes clear, though, that Margaret belts the maid around like this all the time, and that Charlotte is supposed to be both a critique of the servant system and slapstick comic relief. Flinching, fainting, and falling, Berridge has the timing of a skilled silent comedian, and she makes funny what might have been an awkward, even repellent role. As ambitious, alluring Jordan, Eve Gordon wears some of the shortest skirts in prime time and yet transcends sexist cliche. Less of a cartoon than the other characters, Jordan is a woman who truly enjoys her illicit relationship with Powers while using it to further her career. She's aided in her scheming by a press secretary played by Peter MacNicol (Ghostbusters II), whose nattering nervousness gets annoying real fast. Best of all, perhaps, is Mahaffey, who somehow makes Caitlyn-a snappish ''recovering anorexic''-both poignant and hilarious. Mahaffey gave a terrific, very different sort of performance as lawyer Vincent Bugliosi's wife in the recent TV movie Till Death Us Do Part, and she is great playing Eve to Adam Arkin's Adam on Northern Exposure; Caitlyn might make her a star. That is, if people watch this show. Satire is what Empty Nest exists to deny on Saturdays, and the underlying messages of The Powers That Be are cynical downers: that our leaders are primarily concerned with advancing themselves and their peers; that women achieve power only through men. It's unlikely that any of this will shock TV viewers in 1992. No, the real shock is seeing an ensemble cast this sharp and lively on the sleepy Saturday prime- time schedule. Powers could prove to be an upscale, uproarious All in the Family for the '90s. A-

To watch some clips from the Powers That Be go to

For more on The Powers That Be go to

For a Tribute to John Forsythe go to

For the Official Website of Holland Taylor go to

For another Holland Taylor Website go to

For a Website dedicated to Joseph Gordon-Levitt go to

For a Website dedicated to Peter MacNicol go to

For an article on the Powers That Be go to

For some Powers That Be-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to
Date: Mon March 29, 2004 � Filesize: 98.0kb � Dimensions: 590 x 380 �
Keywords: Powers John Forsythe


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