In Md., all don't hail the female chief

As ABC yanks `Commander,' Davis takes flak from politicians for portrayal of Prince George's County as crime-infested area

May 04, 2006|By STEPHEN KIEHL | STEPHEN KIEHL,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- The other commander-in-chief arrived in the nation's capital yesterday, facing the same problems confronting her real-life counterpart -- distrust from the minority community, falling poll numbers and pressure for a staff shake-up.

But yesterday, at least, President Mackenzie Allen of TV's Commander in Chief had a worse day than the real world President Bush. ABC has decided to pull this season's remaining episodes, and it's unclear if the show will return in the fall.

Bush, despite tanking approval ratings and the prospect of disastrous midterm elections, can still be fairly sure he'll be around this fall. Geena Davis, the actress who plays Allen, put her own best spin on her abbreviated term as the nation's first female president, at least on TV. "Until further notice," she said yesterday, "I am still the commander in chief."

Davis was in Washington to promote a new report on how G-rated movies perpetuate gender stereotypes. The media were more interested in talking about her show's depiction last week of Prince George's County as a crime-ridden hotbed of racial unrest.

The program portrayed the city of Hyattsville as so dangerous that federal marshals had to be sent in to keep order. It also alluded to the dining preferences of the residents of Prince George's, a majority black county, by showing a restaurant featuring sweet potato pie, pork chops and chitterlings. Maryland politicians were still fuming this week, even after Davis and ABC issued an apology. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski put out a statement Monday saying the apology was "not enough."

"You have done a great disservice to a vibrant, diverse community," Mikulski said. She suggested the show have President Allen visit NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center or Bowie State University.

"President Allen should return to Prince George's to see what we're all about. I, and the Maryland delegation, look forward to receiving her," Mikulski said, perhaps forgetting that Allen is only president on TV.

Yesterday, Davis looked commanding if not traditionally presidential, dressed in a black T-shirt she designed ("Women," it said, above a picture of the Earth, "We'll settle for half"), jeans and a black jacket.

The actress, who is 50, a member of Mensa and an Academy Award winner for The Accidental Tourist, addressed the uproar before a news conference yesterday at the National Press Club -- but would not say if she would take up Mikulski's offer to visit Prince George's.

"I certainly hope that ABC's apology and statement have helped assuage any of the hard feelings," Davis said. "It's a work of fiction and nothing we said was intended to reflect on the community."

Davis was more expansive about the fate of her show, which will not be on the air this month after a rocky first season. Commander in Chief debuted last fall to critical acclaim and big ratings -- 16 million people watched the first episode.

But ABC dumped the show's executive producer mid-season, put the show on hiatus and brought in a new head honcho, Steven Bochco. By the time the show returned in April, viewers were no longer interested. Only 6 million people watched last week's episode.

"I'm incredibly invested in the show," Davis said. "It really is extremely important to me, and it's become important to a lot of other people, so naturally I'm not happy about them pulling it off during sweeps."

She noted that a final decision on the show's status for the fall won't be made until May 13.

But Davis was appearing yesterday in her role as founder of See Jane, a nonprofit program that aims to increase the number of female characters in children's TV shows and movies.

The group's study of G-rated movies released between 1990 and 2004 found there were three male characters for every one female character and that the male characters tended to be physically aggressive and not married or in committed relationships.

"Basically, what we're feeding them is the white male-dominated version of society, which you think we would have been past," said Davis, who has a 4-year-old daughter and twin 2-year-old boys. She said the boys have not yet been allowed to watch TV or movies.

The study looked at 101 top-grossing G-rated films. Other findings included that males were shown as stronger, faster, dumber and funnier than females, and nonwhite characters were more likely to be portrayed negatively.

Davis' schedule in Washington was full, though it did not involve meeting her real-life counterpart in the White House.

Davis at least got a glimpse of the presidential mansion, from the 12th floor of the Hotel Washington a block away, where she attended a fundraiser last night for See Jane.

As she left the National Press Club yesterday, she climbed into a black Lincoln Town Car -- the official car of official Washington, if not exactly presidential caliber.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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