“State of Affairs” on NBC
“There’s nothing that cable does that we can’t do.” Ed Bernero
By Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/18/14 – Monday night NBC premiered State of Affairs, the latest network overture to the adult female viewership. A group that seems close to the top of broadcast television’s “Most Coveted Demo” list – with a bullet. Main character Charleston “Charlie” Tucker (Katherine Heigl) uses her keen intellect and an unshakeable bond with Madame President Constance Peyton (Alfre Woodard) to rise in The White House hierarchy to her position as morning intelligence briefer and all around ‘git er dun’ girl.
Watching State of Affairs, and shows of its ilk, such as Homeland, 24, and Madame Secretary, drives home the point that the spy genre of yore has morphed into a different animal. Now, in our terrorist landscape, the back-channel political, suspense thriller is the new coin of the realm. And increasingly, the face of that coin is a female, bad-ass. Say goodbye to the tuxedoed, martini sipping super-spies that dotted our Pop landscape in the 60’s and 70’s (James Bond, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy…..etc). Say hello to blond and strong super-heroes like Tea Leoni and Katherine Heigl.
Though fine acting abounds, there are limits to how far outside the box State of Affairs is willing to stray. Charlie’s brilliance is counter balanced by a libido gone wild that has landed her on a shrink’s couch and into the clutches of an endless string of young, buffed, brief encounters. What is the root of all this? Well, Charlie’s fiancé (son of future President Peyton) was killed during a visit to Kabul when the motorcade transporting Charlie, her fiancé and (then Congresswoman) Peyton was attacked by terrorists. This recycled plot point neatly gifts our main character with her pathology, her lust for revenge, and her sister pact with the aggrieved President Peyton to find the killer that took their beloved. Of course, the presumed killer is a suitably loathsome Islamic extremist Omar Abdul Fatah, a typical paint-by-numbers post 9/11 villain. Why tackle the complex horrors of a new faceless, random terror community when you can neatly direct your rage at one all-powerful icon of evil….Osama Bin Laden style.
State of Affairs has a few cards up its sleeve in its quest for primetime ubiquity. Heigl is a veteran leading lady who can skillfully summon up a butch femininity that simmers. Alfre Woodard has made a career out of delivering multi-dimensional performances. Not only does she play the first woman president, she plays the first black female president. Top that off with the fact that she’s also a war veteran. This is bold stuff for primetime network television.
If you look close, you’ll notice that broadcast television is starting to blow the lid off female stereotypes and have started to present women as powerful, nuanced entities unshackled by traditional notions of femininity. Cheers for that. Too bad the core elements (plot, dialogue) of State of Affairs are so tired and predictable. Or, to put a suitable political spin on the situation, there is great opportunity for growth.
This summer, The Hollywood Times.net, and other publications had the opportunity to speak with executive producer Ed Bernero, stars Katherine Heigl and Alfre Woodard, and executive producer Joe Carnahan. As well as executive producer Bob Simonds, executive producer Rodney Faraon, himself a briefer during the Bush and Clinton administrations, and executive producer Nancy Heigl.
Katherine Heigl talked about the motiviations and challenges of her role as Charlie Tucker , KATHERINE HEIGL: “I think that was what was so compelling to me is that this is an actual job, and I had never realized that. I’m not sure why, but a lot of people have asked me, “Does this really happen? Does the President have a briefer?” And I thought the opportunity to delve into that and show this side of the CIA was really compelling, and to play such an intelligent woman who is a real patriot, who really believes that she can make a difference and help protect her country and help her President do her job. And the idea that this is ripe with all kinds of fascinating stories about this country and this world and what goes on that we don’t really know much about. So it all felt like the perfect extraordinary role and story to tell for me.
Executive producer Joe Carnahan spoke about the shows place in the current cable landscape, JOE CARNAHAN: “I think, first and foremost, wanted to do something we felt would move in lockstep with a cable program. You’ve got “Homeland.” You’ve got “Breaking Bad.” You’ve got some extraordinary shows out there, and therefore, you have the bar set quite high. So I thought we really needed to endeavor to do something that was kind of a step beyond that.
Carnahan went on to discuss the restriction of network primetime TV vs. the loose standards and practices enjoyed by cable , JOE CARNAHAN: “NBC certainly hasn’t put any restrictions on us, and I think we’re going to continue to push until someone pushes back. And I think NBC is also very acutely aware that you need to kind of stretch it, you need it push it, you need to go outside of these boundaries in order to be competitive with the like-minded cable shows.”
Ed Bernero expanded on the network vs. cable angle, ED BERNERO: “I’ve also had a lot of discussions with NBC about my belief that there doesn’t have to be a wall between what you can do in network and what you can do in cable. You just have to use a little bit different language, and you can’t show sex as much. But other than that, I mean, the biggest difference for me in cable and network is characterization, that cable kind of starts with a character sort of messed up, and then they go downhill with them. And network sort of starts with characters messed up and fixes them right away. So I just think that it’s just a matter of changing the way we deal with character. There’s nothing that cable does that we can’t do.”
Alfre Woodard discussed her groundbreaking portrayal of the first Madame President, ALFRE WOODARD: “I think the gorilla in the room is we all know that the world will not spin off its axis if there’s an African American as President. So the gorilla in the room is that I’m a woman. And, hopefully, everybody will get accustomed to saying “Madam President” in their homes, and so we won’t freak out when there is a Madam President.”