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`Mr. President' earns niche in Fox Broadcasting's prime time

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Only a couple of minutes into ``Mr. President,'' you sense something a little different. The new situation comedy - which premi`ered Sunday on Fox Broadcasting - already has a satirical bite not often found in prime-time series on the big three commercial networks. A presidential candidiate (George C. Scott as Samuel Arthur Tresch) and his wife are talking in their bedroom. It's election eve, and she just can't help wondering what kind of president he'll make. ``The President of the United States should be a spectacular man, like my father,'' she notes. ``I'm not talking as your wife, but as an American citizen.'' Finally, her ludicrous deliberations over, she decides, ``I'm going to vote for you,'' as if reaching an agonizing decision.

In just those few lines the show has started a conjugal battle of the sexes - nothing new there - and then mixed it with election clich'es to produce a wryness and candor untypical of blander prime-time fare. The show does have to scale the office down to manageable sitcom proportions, but the public side of Tresch's life at least figures in the caustic comedy insights, and it brushes - sometimes with absurd results - against the couple's private life. The writing makes passes at themes of private and personal responsibility (though not topical subjects - it never mentions what party he's in). In one scene, for instance, Tesch asks Meg for the name of a man who made a pass at her. It's partly a comedy line, but you shiver a bit at its implication about power and its meaning for a man and his family.

The show is fortunate in having an actor like Scott to give the role the strength and personal depth it needs. It's as if the man were incapable of sliding totally into the big-three network mold. His gruffly likable Trumanesque figure - played with Spencer Tracy-like personal honesty - comes much closer to credibility than normally found in this genre.

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