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Fictional Presidents You May Not Remember

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Here in the final weekend before the 2012 presidential election, figuring out who will occupy the Oval Office seems all too real. Perhaps a brief respite is in order. To that end, here is a selection of fictional presidents for your politically-overloaded pleasure.

JAMES EARL JONES IN “THE MAN”

In 1972, the idea of a black president made for gripping drama. Here’s the premise for this TV movie that was released as a feature film: the President and Speaker of the House are killed, and the Vice President is in ill health and declines the job. Suddenly, the president pro tempore of the Senate – the great James Earl Jones – is president. What follows is a morality play about racial fears, idealism and political hardball. Guess who wrote the screenplay? Rod Serling.

JEFF BRIDGES IN “THE CONTENDER”

Speaking of political hardball, I greatly enjoyed this 2000 movie that had Jeff Bridges as a wily Commander in Chief. The film was primarily about Joan Allen as a senator being considered for vice president, but Bridges also stood out. Partly it had to do with his cutthroat deal making; partly it was his strange obsession with sandwiches.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN IN “STAR TREK”

Oh yeah – fictionalized versions of real presidents are still fiction, in my book. Now some of you may prefer “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” or even “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” but to me nothing beats seeing Honest Abe (Lee Bergere) battle bad guys with Kirk and Spock on an alien planet. If you need to know the rationale for this scenario, then you clearly don’t understand the crazy vibe of “Star Trek,” season 3, 1969.

MARTIN SHEEN IN “THE DEAD ZONE”

Please, you didn’t think I was going to use “The West Wing,” did you? This is The Jimbo List, not The Obvious List. Here’s a different sort of Sheen presidency. In 1983’s “The Dead Zone,” based on the Stephen King novel, Sheen is a nutjob Senate candidate. When the movie’s main character, a psychic, touches Sheen’s hand, he sees a vision of a future in which Sheen is president. Let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

FREDRIC MARCH IN “SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”

March had just the right formality and gravitas to ground this 1964 political thriller. He played a U.S. president who dared to negotiate a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets during the Cold War. This, in turn, leads to a potential overthrow of the U.S. government by a mad general. It’s a little melodramatic, in the way movies used to be, but still satisfying.

TERRY CREWS IN “IDIOCRACY”

By no means is this a recommendation of the 2006 comedy, “Idiocracy.” I actually found it a little depressing. But it accurately reflects a fear many people probably have, that our culture is elevating stupidity and celebrity at the expense of essential institutions. Crews, who I generally get a kick out of, is a kick-ass, gun-toting Prez here.

JOHN TRAVOLTA IN “PRIMARY COLORS”

As anyone who saw “Primary Colors” knows, it’s a thinly-veiled look at Bill and Hillary Clinton, complete with habitual womanizing and feel-your-pain empathy. I thought Travolta did a very good job playing a fictional version of someone we all think we understand.

TIMOTHY BOTTOMS IN “THAT’S MY BUSH!”

Remember this 2000 Comedy Central series? It lasted only a couple of months, using George W. Bush as fodder for a merging of sitcom cliches with current events. It was created by the “South Park” guys, and it had plots that included gun control, abortion, wacky neighbors and trying to impress the in-laws.

JACK NICHOLSON IN “MARS ATTACKS!”

The Martians were by far the coolest part of 1996’s “Mars Attacks!” Nicholson, overacting with wild abandon, was front and center as the president in this all-star comedy extravaganza. A few laughs, nothing more.

MARY McDONNELL IN “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA”

Believe it or not, McDonnell was a more realistic president in this TV space opera than many of the other examples on this List. She was pragmatic, deceptive, ruthless and driven. She also happened to be on a space ship.

CHARLES LINDBERGH IN “THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA”

In this 2004 novel, Philip Roth envisions a world in which Charles Lindbergh beats Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election. The country quickly unravels in a frightening spiral of antisemitism. Roth adds his own family members into the alternate history, to great effect.

HENRY FONDA IN “FAIL-SAFE”

The burdens of the presidency weigh heavily on Fonda here, with good reason. There’s been a malfunction on one of our war planes – it’s about to nuke Moscow out of existence. Can we stop it? And if we can’t, what does the president do next?

ROBERT CULP IN “THE PELICAN BRIEF”

Pure potboiler, but lots of fun. Culp gives his supporting role as a villainous president a whiff of Ronald Reagan. He’s grandfatherly and let’s his staff do a lot of the heavy lifting.

KELSEY GRAMMER IN “SWING VOTE”

This somewhat minor 2008 comedy had a presidential election coming down to the vote of one dude out in New Mexico (Kevin Costner) who needed to recast his ballot. Grammer played the sitting president, running for re-election. I include this one mainly because it gives you a sense of what Grammer would bring to his fantastic portrayal of a Chicago mayor in TV’s “Boss.” In both comedy and drama, he’s believable as a powerful politician.

OLD RICHARD NIXON IN “WATCHMEN”

In the movie and comics versions of “Watchmen,” Richard Nixon has remained president right into the 1980s. It’s a chilling and cynical view of politics and public opinion, on a grand scale. With superheroes, of course.

PETER SELLERS IN “DR. STRANGELOVE”

What is it with these fictional 1964 presidents and their phones & nukes? Anyway, I loved Sellers in this role. His president, Merkin Muffley, was a mild-mannered guy handling an international crisis with all the bureaucratic pomposity we’ve come to expect from Washington, D.C. Here’s a typical line: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

So there you have it – a plethora of fictional presidents. Now, back to our regularly scheduled election!

Great TV and Movie Reunions

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We’re all suckers for reunions, aren’t we? They speak to our collective sense of the passage of time, our feelings of mortality and our deep desire for human connection. Hollywood reunions exploit this to great effect – which is a wordy way of saying I can’t wait for the upcoming “Arrested Development” update now being produced for Netflix. In the meantime, here are nine terrific TV and movie reunions.

THE WEST WING POLITICAL AD

This one is pretty recent. The “West Wing” gang got together to help the campaign of cast member Mary McCormack’s sister out in Michigan by producing a short video. It’s actually a nonpartisan ad, and it shows that C.J., Toby, Josh and President Bartlett haven’t lost their touch. And of course there’s a great walk-and-talk scene!

THE MARX BROTHERS ON G.E. TRUE THEATER

Obscure, but poignant in its way. On March 8, 1959, Harpo and Chico Marx starred in an episode of “G.E. True Theater” called “The Incredible Jewel Robbery.” Now, any time you get two of the Marx Brothers together, it’s an occasion for celebration. What took it to the next level was the appearance of brother Groucho at the end of the episode. I happen to think that old men acting silly for a laugh is a noble thing; it’s especially true when they clearly enjoy each other’s company this much.

SONNY AND CHER ON LETTERMAN SHOW

The emotions were much more complicated in 1987 when Sonny and Cher went on “Late Night with David Letterman.” It was years after their divorce, and Letterman somehow persuaded them to sing “I Got You Babe” during the broadcast. I remember that Sonny, in particular, seemed emotional. It was an awkward, but riveting, reunion.

MARY TYLER MOORE AND DICK VAN DYKE REVISIT LAURA AND ROB PETRIE

Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke shared an incredible chemistry on the old “Dick Van Dyke Show,” and it remains obvious every time they’re on stage together. My favorite example of this was from 1979, when Mary briefly had a variety show and Dick appeared as a guest star. They did an extended “Rob and Laura” sketch, in which Mary is in psychotherapy and Dick has to write the eulogy for Alan Brady’s funeral. It was like comedy comfort food.

THE SEINFELD GANG ON CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

Here’s a case in which a TV reunion settled some unfinished business. More than a decade after the final episode of “Seinfeld” fell flat, Jerry & Co. did a multi-episode story on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which they returned to their characters. It was absolutely brilliant. The writing was sharp, insightful and – most important – funny.

DEAN AND JERRY REUNITE ON LIVE TELEVISION

In terms of reunion shock value, nothing beats the moment at the 1976 Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon when Dean Martin walked out to greet his old partner, Jerry Lewis. They hadn’t seen each other in 20 years, and both were sheepish and stunned. Frank Sinatra had orchestrated the whole thing, which went on for several minutes and had all the Hollywood schmaltz of a Rat Pack movie. First, Jerry says to Frank, under his breath, “You son of a b—-.” Then he looks at Dean and asks, “So, how you been?”

STAR TREK GOES WHERE NO FILM HAS GONE BEFORE

Aside from those ghastly uniforms, the return of “Star Trek” a decade after its cancellation has to be the most successful Hollywood reunion ever. Sure, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was ponderous, but it led to a movie series that continues to this day, plus several well-received TV series.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER REBOOT

The beloved sitcom, “Leave It to Beaver,” had an unlikely second act, thanks to a reunion. Most of the cast came back in 1983 for a TV movie called, “Still the Beaver.” In it, the Beaver was a divorced dad with two kids, and the public was intrigued. That led to a second regular series, which ran for several years.

THE NEWHART FINALE

With one scene, Bob Newhart brilliantly cut to the hard truth about his sitcom, “Newhart.” It was this: as funny as “Newhart” was, it never could erase the audience’s memory of Bob’s previous series, “The Bob Newhart Show.” How do we know this? Because in the “Newhart” series finale, Bob suddenly wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the old show! To this day, it’s the best finale in TV history.

Brings a smile to your face, doesn’t it?

My Favorite TV Hangouts

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It’s no secret that we form sentimental attachments to our favorite TV characters. But we also become fond of the places those characters go to socialize. For me, they include bars, malt shops, diners and way too many coffee shops.

FLOYD’S BARBER SHOP

Mayberry wouldn’t have been nearly so entertaining without Floyd’s Barber Shop, where town luminaries such as Sheriff Taylor, Deputy Fife and Gomer Pyle caught up on the latest gossip with Floyd (Howard McNear). I loved Floyd’s spacey, vaguely disapproving manner on “The Andy Griffith Show.” I also loved Eugene Levy’s send-up of Floyd on the old SCTV show.

CENTRAL PERK

This was the perfect place for the cast of “Friends” to spend quality time. Coffee shops were just coming into their own as hipster meeting spots, which fit the vibe of the show. One thing did bother me: how did this same group of friends ALWAYS get the good couch?

MOE’S TAVERN

As animated dive bars go, Moe’s Tavern on “The Simpsons” is the best there is. Moe himself, voiced by Hank Azaria, is a hoot and a half. His place is Homer’s safe haven and the launching pad for some great prank phone calls (“Al Coholic? Is there an Al Coholic here?”)

SATRIALE’S PORK STORE

This place, one of several hangouts for the thugs on “The Sopranos,” absolutely reeked of authenticity. That’s because it’s a real pork store in New Jersey. Also, my apologies to those hoping this List would include the Bada Bing.

CAFE NERVOSA

More coffee here, this one from “Frasier.” Cafe Nervosa was upscale and classy, in keeping with the tone of urbane wit that Kelsey Grammer & Co. maintained.

LONG BRANCH SALOON

No one would ever accuse the Long Branch, from “Gunsmoke,” of being a realistic depiction of a saloon in the old west. I suspect the saloons on “Deadwood” were a lot closer to the real thing. Yet it proved to be home sweet home for Marshal Matt Dillon – thanks to the ever-patient Miss Kitty.

KARAOKE BAR ON THE NEWSROOM

What seems like an odd locale for the news folk on “The Newsroom” to choose as a hangout is actually very smart. The karaoke bar (if someone knows the name, please let me know) is sleek and flashy, just like the show. It’s also kind of pleasantly goofy, just like the show. It works.

ARNOLD’S

“Happy Days” wasn’t one of my favorite shows, but I loved the local burger joint, Arnold’s. It looked the way a 1950s teen hangout was supposed to look, right down to the jukebox and booths. There’s only one TV teen hangout I like better…

THE SHAKE SHOP

“The Patty Duke Show” wasn’t trying to rekindle nostalgic memories of an earlier era; it was part of youth culture. It just happened to be centered around a ridiculous premise about identical cousins. The local malt shop was the scene of much action. Viva la Shake Shop!

DOC MAGOO’S

Doc Magoo’s was the dive diner a block away from the hospital on “ER.” As with so many of the places on this List, it reflects something important about the show itself. The characters on “ER” had no lives outside of the hospital, for the most part. They put love, family and even food on the back burner, reducing their meals to something they could run and get down the street from work.

MACLAREN’S PUB

Another shrewd choice of place. “How I Met Your Mother,” like many sitcoms, is about building your own family of people who care about you. This pub, with its cozy booths, warm brown tables and unending stream of attractive visitors, is just the right spot.

TEN FORWARD

Even intergalactic explorers need a place to unwind. On “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” that place was Ten Forward, the Enterprise’s very own bar. Whoopi Goldberg was the proprietor. Best. Romulan. Ale. Ever.

BAR ON RESCUE ME

“Rescue Me” was all about personal demons: alcohol, guilt, you name it. What better place to work on some of those issues than a New York City bar? At its best, this show was an absolute gem, with several incredible scenes set in the tavern owned by the guys from the firehouse.

BOSTON LEGAL ROOFTOP

In all weather and states of being, James Spader and William Shatner made beautiful music together on their law firm’s rooftop on “Boston Legal.” These scenes came to be the real soul of the series. That’s what a great hangout is for, frankly. It’s a place to confide, regale and bask in the glow of belonging.

MONK’S DINER

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there’s any question that this coffee shop on “Seinfeld” is the best TV hangout of all time. It’s where George told the blowhole story, for crying out loud! And the place serves up a fine Big Salad. Monk’s was something special in a show about nothing.

Of course, this is all a matter of opinion. Which TV hangouts do you like best?

11 Movie & TV Precursors to ‘The Hunger Games’

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With the movie version of “The Hunger Games” poised to take the nation by storm, here are some notable film and TV examples of people fighting to the death for sport. Let the games begin.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

Richard Connell’s classic short story about a crazy hunter on a Caribbean island who stalks human visitors has been filmed numerous times. The best version came in 1932, with Joel McCrea as the young guy being hunted by loony Leslie Banks. It’s a story that works in any era.

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME

Welcome to Bartertown. In this 1985 installment of the “Mad Max” series, Mel Gibson finds himself battling assorted psychos in a freaky fight cage called Thunderdome. As wild as the action is, Tina Turner’s striking villain is even more wild.

SPARTACUS

Amid the spectacle of 1960’s “Spartacus,” there’s a fantastic sequence of Kirk Douglas in the Roman arena versus the great Woody Strode. I won’t give away the ending of this fight, which is stirring.

GLADIATOR

Of course, “Gladiator” (2000) owes some of its imagery to “Spartacus,” but Russell Crowe can hold his head high. He’s a commanding presence here, especially in forced fighting scenes in the arena. Careful of those tigers, dude.

STAR TREK

TV’s original “Star Trek” used the combat-as-sport concept several times. Most memorable was Capt. Kirk’s epic rumble against the lizard-headed Gorn. How did Shatner not get an Emmy for this? Side note: I love the Gorn in those Geico commercials.

THE RUNNING MAN

As time has gone by, I think this 1987 film stands out less because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heroics and more for Richard Dawson’s smarmy host of a televised hunt for criminals on the run. Side note: This may well be the only Hollywood project ever to combine the talents of Dawson, Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura.

DEATH RACE 2000

Let’s stay in the realm of violent campiness with 1975’s “Death Race 2000.” This one starred David Carradine and involved – I kid you not – a car race in which the point was to mow down pedestrians. My GPS navigation lady would not put up with that sort of thing.

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD

This high-octane western from 1995 is mainly just an excuse to stage a whole mess of gunslinger duels. They’re done stylishly, with a cast that includes Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen and Keith David.

THE NAKED PREY

A strangely engrossing movie, this one. Cornel Wilde is a guide in Africa, being hunted by a determined group of warriors. There are long stretches without dialogue and the characters’ exhaustion is palpable. From 1966.

GAMER

The plot for this 2009 flick has to do with using mind-control to play deadly games with real people. Gerard Butler is certainly game as the lead character, but the real draw is the always-interesting Michael C. Hall as the bad guy.

TRON

I’m partial to the 1982 original, but I have no beef with the 2010 sequel. Both films are dazzling in their own ways, visually. Of interest here, in the virtual world inside a video game, are jaw-dropping battles with flying discs and the coolest motorcycles ever. They have to be seen to be believed.

Now let’s see how “The Hunger Games” fares.