Hail To The Chief: The Top Five TV Presidents


In honour of Barack Obama’s inauguration today as the 44th President of the United States, the Choob thought a great way to honour and celebrate the occasion would be with a top 10 list of the best fictional TV presidents.

But then I realised that while commanders-in-chief are 10-a-penny on the big screen, they’re in short supply on TV.

So, then, bearing that in mind, here is my list.

The Five Most Memorable (And, If You Don’t Count All The Other Ones From 24 and Jimmy Smits In The West Wing, The Only) Fictional TV Presidents:

5. President Mackenzie Allen, as played by Geena Davis in Commander In Chief (2005-06).

Television’s first female US President, I believe (and the only one, until the start of 24’s seventh season last week).

President Allen was initially the Vice President and was unexpectedly thrust into the hotseat when her predecessor died in office.

Unfortunately, her spell in the Oval Office was rather short due to voter (audience) apathy and the show was cancelled after a single season.

4. President Charles Logan, as played by Gregory Itzin in 24 (2005-07).

When presidents go bad!

In day five of 24, one of the show’s best seasons to date, they did the unthinkable – halfway through the season they revealed that the villain (or at least one of them) was the President.

It was a clever twist, one of the show’s best, given how strong and honourable former President David Palmer had been in previous seasons.

In contrast, Logan was weak, easily manipulated and self-serving.

Itzin’s excellently slimy, sleazy performance made the character all the more memorable.

3. President Laura Roslin, as played by Mary McDonnell in Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009).

Okay, so technically not a President of the USA – in fact not even human, although the Galacticans are either descendants or ancestors of the human race (or both! The jury is still out on that one).

Roslin was the Education Secretary of the 12 Colonies and the only surviving government minister after the Cylon attack. Despite suffering from terminal cancer, she assumed the role of President and, fuelled by visions that led her to believe that she was the chosen one spoken of in prophecies from her religion, she came to believe it was her destiny to lead the few survivors of the 12 tribes in the search for Earth, where a mythical 13th tribe set up home thousands of years ago after leaving the 12 colonies.

Along the way, she veered perilously close to fascism and dictatorship in her single-minded pursuit of her goals but, guided by those around her, her own failings and vulnerabilities ultimately made her more sympathetic to and understanding of those who challenged her.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is is much of a contemporary social drama as it is a sci-fi adventure. It has been brilliant at filtering issues and concepts affecting us, the viewers, through the sci-fi prism of the show. For example, the role of church versus state, the question of whether terrorism can ever be condoned, worker’s rights, the role of the military… all this and much more has been explored with an intelligence and thoughtfulness rarely seen on TV in general, never mind on a sci-fi Tv show.

And although occasionally a very frustrating character to watch, given her entrenched beliefs and single-minded pursuit of her goals, President Laura Roslin has been one of the high points in a show full of high points.

2. President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet, as played by Martin Sheen in The West Wing (1999-2006).

Surely the President we’d all like to see in the White House?

Yes, the Republicans might bristle at some of his wishy-washy, liberal ideals but the fact was that Bartlet never shied away from doing what was best for the country as a whole, even when it jarred with his own personal beliefs.

He’d often do what had to be done for the good of his nation, not is own agenda, and agonise later over what it meant for his own spiritual – and political – survival, not the other way round, a refreshing change from real-world presidents of recent years.

A very charismatic president – but also a very human one, as he battled multiple sclerosis to continue to serve the people as best he could. Whether you agreed with his political agenda, few would disagree that he set standards that any real-life president, of whatever political colour, would do well to emulate.

1. President David Palmer, as played by Dennis Haysbert in 24 (2001-06).

Haysbert has gone on the record as saying that he believes his portrayal of President Palmer helped pave the way for Obama’s election success.

And who’s to say there’s not an element of truth in the idea that a popular fictional character in an unfamiliar role can perhaps make people more open to the idea of such a thing happening in real life?

In any case, Palmer was one of 24’s great strengths and has been sadly missed since his offhand exit from the show at the start of season five.

He was strong, principled, moral and righteous – and yet, like, Bartlet, never shied away from the tough decisions that made him uncomfortable and conflicted with his own personal beliefs, if he thought they were for the good of the people.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Choob salutes you (except Logan, you swine). Obama has a lot to live up to.

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