By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - There is a crazy family living at the White House, but it's not the Obamas. It's the Gilchrists, whose never-ending follies pulse and push upcoming TV comedy romp "1600 Penn."
Starring Bill Pullman as U.S. President Dale Gilchrist and Jenna Elfman as his first lady, the show's co-creator Josh Gad said on Friday that there is plenty of precedent for family madness at the Oval Office.
"You can look as far back as Mary Todd Lincoln ... and you can see dysfunction in the halls of the White House," Gad told reporters on a conference call, referring to the wife of Civil War President Abraham Lincoln.
Gad, who shot to prominence in the Tony-winning musical "The Book of Mormon," also plays the error-prone, good-intentioned son Skip, who with his three younger siblings backstop the earnestness of his father and step-mother.
"We really wanted to dissect what it meant to be a family in the most extraordinary of circumstances - and what's more extraordinary than being the first family?" Gad said.
The show, which takes its title from the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue street address of the White House, debuts on January 10 on NBC.
It sees Skip crashing a Latin American trade meeting at the White House and helping convince the region's leaders to abandon the arm-twisting Brazilian president and cut a deal instead with his father - summoning their courage with booze.
It is all part of Skip's plan to redeem himself after causing a public relations embarrassment by burning down a fraternity house at his college.
"It's like a drop of a political thing that will spark a family problem," Elfman said, whose character struggles to win the trust of her step-children and fights the media's trophy-wife label.
"1600 Penn," is co-created by Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for President Barack Obama.
The White House has been successful grounds for TV in the past, inspiring shows like Aaron Sorkin's drama series "The West Wing" from 1999-2006, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Emmy-winning turn as a frustrated vice president in the satirical "Veep."
But Gad said "1600 Penn" has no interest in party politics and that President Gilchrist's party affiliation is deliberately vague.
"I can't emphasize that enough," Gad said. "We never set out to make a political show."
Nevertheless, Pullman, who played the president in the 1996 blockbuster film "Independence Day," said the 2012 U.S. presidential race gave him plenty of fodder to study.
"It was a surreal time to be making this because of the campaign going on," Pullman said. "Every day that we were shooting (the race) was in the news."
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, editing by Jill Serjeant and Lisa Shumaker)