HBO News Blog

HBO Classics: Another Political Series before VEEP

By Jef Dinsmore on Jun 13, 2012 to HBO Classics

The following is brought about because of the political comedy that has just ended its first season on HBO. VEEP has played up the
world of government in a bright, witty way filled with rough wordplay and comedic delivery every Sunday night at 10:00 pm ET. As stated in a previous post though, it was not the only show of a political theme to air on the pay channel. VEEP is, however, the only one of the three shows mentioned here that plays the politics for pure comedic effect. K STREET took a more serious tone and was very topical in contrast. The other show, focused on here was a show called TANNER ’88. It took on yet a different tone.

TANNER ’88, if you haven’t guessed, took place and aired back in 1988. It was a mockumentary style show that was created & directed by Robert Altman and produced & written by Garry Trudeau. The show was broadcast by HBO during the months leading up to the presidential election of that year. It told the behind-the scenes story of the campaign of a former Michigan representative during his bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. His name was Jack Tanner and he was played by Michael Murphy. If you don’t know him he was in movies like M*A*S*H and TV’s Law and Order. The cast of TANNER ’88 also included Cynthia Nixon, before she went to SEX AND THE CITY, as his daughter and Pamela Reed (NBC’s Parks and Recreation) as his campaign manager. Also the show, as did K STREET, utilized cameos of political figures of the day. Appearing in episodes were Bob Dole, Kitty Dukakis, Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson.

On the political scene in 1988 comes Jack Tanner an obscure Democrat with an aggressive manager who films an unscripted, impassioned hotel room speech and turns it into a marketing ploy to boost his image. It takes off so well, that his popularity skyrockets and he ends up competing for the Oval Office against Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis. One amusing gimmick along the way in this eleven episode series is the Cabinet appointees Tanner mentions along the way as his Tanner: For Real campaign rolls on. Some recognizable names today that we can list were Lee Iacocca as the Secretary of Defense, Ralph Nader as Attorney General, Robert Redford as Secretary of the Interior and Gloria Steinem as Secretary of Health and Human Services!

The series, though it lasted only one season, was a critically acclaimed work that The New York Times called “slick and witty.” Robert Altman called it “the best work I have ever done” and won an Emmy for Best Dramatic Series for his work on it. It has also been remastered as a Criterion Collection video package. Both veteran filmmakers of the piece intended it to be a strictly scripted work but easily and quickly adapted it as political news played out; which means, of course, that Jack Tanner doesn’t win the nomination in the end. The series actually ended with Dukakis winning the nomination and Tanner considering running under a new third party. Trudeau and Altman were eager to continue the series concluding four season later with our title character running again in 1992 but HBO did not further back this dark horse. This satiric and sharp look of the political scene is not only a slice of the political history of 1988 but a look at the political machine that has only gotten more brutal years later.

If you are intrigued by TANNER ’88 it is available from most of the usual outlets including the HBO SHOP but it is not referenced on HBO.com or viewable on HBOGO. So, since we have a while to wait for VEEP’s second season, maybe TANNER ’88 might peak your political interests in the interim. Anyone remember this ground-breaking show? Drop us a comment if you do or even let us know what you thought of VEEP’s inaugural season.

Politics is always a hot topic on HBO!










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