1600-penn-cast-nbc

When Does It Start: Thursday 10th January at 9.30pm on NBC (with a sneak preview 17th December after The Voice).

In A Nutshell: It’s The West Wing meets Modern Family.

What’s It About: Meet America’s new First Family. There’s the hard-edged President Gilchrist (Bill Pullman), First Lady – and second wife – Emily (Jenna Elfman), prodigal son Skip (Josh Gad), pregnant daughter Becca and smart-ass kids Xander and Marigold. Together they must deal with all the usual family drama – as well as the pressures of being the most famous family in America.

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Plus Points: Pullman and Elfman are the biggest names on 1600 Penn but it’s clear that NBC are betting the whole (White) house on creator, EP and star Josh Gad – the Book Of Mormon lead who’s potentially poised for breakout mainstream success. It’s interesting that Gad is playing essentially the same role he perfected on the Broadway smash, the well meaning but clumsy doofus (years earlier Chris Farley or John Candy would have filled this role). So will Gad follow in the footsteps of his Mormon co-star Andrew Rawnells, who’s become famous via his roles on Girls and fellow NBC show The New Normal?

Launching 1600 Penn with a peak pre-Christmas peak is a smart idea and come January audiences could be starving for new shows. Penn is certainly not your typical family based sitcom which could help it stand out from the pack – and NBC have a reputation for quirky, cultish comedies like Parks And Recreation and 30 Rock.

On The Downside: Gad brings Broadway critical acclaim but let’s be honest he’s still an unknown to most audiences – and no matter how hard networks try they can’t seem to make a star out of the similar Tyler Labine (whose track record now includes the quickly cancelled Sons Of Tucson, Mad Love, Invasion and Animal Practice). Meanwhile Bill Pullman has been relatively quiet since his 90’s peak and Jenna Elfman is also many years on from her breakout Dharma And Greg (though she was terrific in the little seen last season of Damages). So there’s essentially no star to launch 1600 Penn…

Previewing 1600 Penn after the Voice should guarantee some initial tune in but come January the White House comedy is going to be utterly exposed – and on Thursday nights, which have become an absolute disaster zone for NBC in recent years. The Peacock network has had a terrible time on the comedy front recently – heck the fact that Whitney is still on the air is proof of how bad things have become. Without the power of The Voice insiders predict that NBC are going to have a very rough January…

Finally there’s the subject matter itself. After a year of non-stop election coverage do Americans really want to watch a network political comedy? Sure Veep is a hit for HBO but its audience is still only cable sized – and Political Animals, Boss and Commander In Chief all died fairly quick deaths. Plus I have to be honest – the 1600 Penn trailer left me cold… where are the laughs?

Prediction: The Thursday night NBC ratings bar is low – but I have a feeling 1600 Penn will still struggle. I think this will be a one term – or series – presidency.