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Kiefer Sutherland as President Tom Kirkman,
Kiefer Sutherland made his dramatic return to television this month in one of the most interesting presidential roles to grace primetime. In a horrendous turn of events, a terrorist attack takes out the president and all members of the cabinet during a State of the Union address, leaving only Kirkman, the about-to-be-fired U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, as the sworn-in president. How? He was the (wait for it) designated survivor, a member of cabinet asked to stay protected offsite in the presumed disaster scenario. While only a few episodes of the series have aired thus far, it’s clear that Sutherland's President Kirkman will need to ride to plenty of challenges, while trying hard to prove his worth. Designated Survivor (ABC)
Martin Sheen as President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet,
For seven years, Sheen played popular President “Jed” Bartlet, who (really old The West Wing (NBC) ) kept his diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis secret from most of his administration and the American people for almost the entirety of his terms in office. A democrat, he used his popularity as a governor to run for office, despite his illness, and eventually took the highest seat as leader of the free world. As a just, highly intellectual president with a sense of calm and integrity, the character was often likened to John F. Kennedy. J.F.K, too, suffered from many an illness that he hid from the American people throughout his presidency. spoiler alert
Dennis Haysbert as President David Palmer,
For the first three seasons of the riveting drama, Haysbert played David Palmer, the popular and charismatic president with the silky-smooth voice. Through his term, he helped Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and the Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) stop several major terrorist attacks. He put immense trust in Bauer, and while the character of Palmer continued to appear even after his run as POTUS had ended, he was ( 24 (Fox) ) spoiler alert sadly assassinated at the beginning of the fifth season. In a Blockbuster poll, Palmer was named favorite on-screen president, and many believe the character and Haysbert’s portrayal of him helped open the public’s eyes to the idea of an African-American president, long before President Barack Obama ran for office.
Cherry Jones, President Allison Taylor,
If 24 (Fox) 24’s President David Palmer opened eyes to the idea of an African-American president, might Jones’ portrayal of President Allison Taylor have done the same for a female president? Indeed, it has been said that her character was at least loosely based on Hillary Clinton. On the show, she became the first female president of the United States, and held office through seasons 7 and 8, as well as in the TV movie 24: Redemption. Taylor was steadfast in trying to keep her integrity in tact, but had to succumb, at times, to the darker side of politics in order to get things done. That said, she always managed to (eventually) stay true to herself, and her ethics; and always put her trust in Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) in the end.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, President Selina Meyer,
“I think Veep (HBO) Veep has torn down the wall between comedy and politics,” joked Louis-Dreyfus during her Emmy Award acceptance speech this September – her fifth win. “Our show started out as a political satire but it now feels like a sobering documentary.” Indeed, the satirical series, adapted from the British sitcom The Thick of It, follows fictional vice president Meyer’s rise to the presidency in an odd turn of events, after feeling disregarded and powerless as second-in-command. Interestingly, you never find out to which political party she belongs, which is intentional.
Tony Goldwyn, President Fitzgerald Grant III,
Making his way into the Oval Office thanks to some crafty tampering by those who worked his campaign (a fact that is unbeknownst to Grant through much of his first term) he’s a president with good intentions, who’s passionate about making positive changes for the country. Unfortunately, he seems to hit roadblocks at every turn. While White House staff is constantly working in secret to protect him from the scandalous things that go on behind the scenes, Grant makes it easy since he’s far more interested in pursuing his equally scandalous affair with “fixer,” Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). As the series progresses, however, Grant faces hardship after hardship. He's always eager to show he has something to prove, and remind anyone who crosses his path that he Scandal (ABC) is the president of the United States.
Keith Carradine, President Conrad Dalton,
While Tea Leoni’s character Dr. Elizabeth McCord, Secretary of State, is the focal point of this political drama, Carradine’s portrayal of CIA Director-turned-President Conrad Dalton helped evolve what was just a recurring role in the first season to a supporting character in season 2 and 3. Will it be a one-term presidency, or can he make it to two by running as an independent? An exchange between Dalton and McCord in the season 3 premiere perfectly captures the type of president he is: “What good is bold idealism if it all but guarantees the loss of a second term?” he asks. When she replies that she wants to do “what’s right,” his response: “And I’m talking about winning.” Madam Secretary (CBS) Saturday Night Live, it’s par for the course that a cast member or two will impersonate presidents, from Kate McKinnon’s hilarious interpretation of Hillary Clinton, to Chevy Chase’s falling down Ford, and everything in between.
But apart from satire, the growing popularity of dramas has given rise to a long list of actors who have played fictional versions of a U.S. president. Some have been humble and kind, others cunning, manipulative, and still others downright drunk with power.
In the gallery above we’ve highlighted eight of the most interesting fictional presidents to have graced our television screens in recent years. Enjoy!