Tanner '88

Last updated
Tanner '88
Tanner 88 DVD.jpg
Series DVD cover
Created by Garry Trudeau
Directed by Robert Altman
Starring Michael Murphy
Pamela Reed
Cynthia Nixon
Kevin J. O'Connor
Daniel Jenkins
Jim Fyfe
Matt Malloy
Ilana Levine
Veronica Cartwright
Country of originUnited States
No. of episodes11 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producers Robert Altman
Garry Trudeau
Camera setup Multiple camera
Running time1-hour premiere, all others approx. 30 minutes
Distributor HBO
Release
Original network HBO
Picture formatColor
Audio format Mono
Original releaseFebruary 15 (1988-02-15) 
August 22, 1988 (1988-08-22)
Chronology
Followed by Tanner on Tanner

Tanner '88 is a political mockumentary miniseries written by Garry Trudeau and directed by Robert Altman. First broadcast by HBO during the months leading up to the 1988 U.S. presidential election, it purports to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the campaign of former Michigan U.S. representative Jack Tanner during his bid to secure the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States.

Contents

The story is told from a number of different points of view, including Tanner, his campaign staff, the small army of news reporters that constantly follow the candidate, and volunteers. Many political figures of the time appear (some in cameos, some extended), including Bruce Babbitt, Bob Dole, Kitty Dukakis, Gary Hart, Jesse Jackson, and Pat Robertson. Trudeau and Altman revisited the story 16 years later in Tanner on Tanner .

Plot summary

Representative Jack Tanner of Michigan (Michael Murphy) is an obscure liberal Democratic politician who struggles to find a voice in the early 1988 Democratic primaries. His campaign manager, T.J. Cavanaugh (Pamela Reed), uses an unscripted, impassioned hotel-room speech caught on camera as part of an advertising campaign focusing on Tanner's authenticity and integrity. Using the slogan "For Real", Tanner emerges from a wide field of contenders to battle for the nomination against two high-profile and better-funded candidates: Jesse Jackson and eventual nominee Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.

With Tanner are his college-aged daughter Alexandra (Cynthia Nixon), whose illness was why he earlier left politics and who has left college for the duration of the campaign, and his girlfriend Joanna Buckley (Wendy Crewson), Dukakis' deputy campaign manager. Others who appear on camera are Emile Berkoff (Jim Fyfe), a compulsive statistician with a crush on Alexandra; Deke Conners (Matt Malloy), an East Village filmmaker hired to produce Tanner campaign ads; and Andrea Spinelli (Ilana Levine), T.J.'s innocent and ditzy but well-meaning assistant. The candidate's father, General John Tanner (E.G. Marshall), who has a contentious relationship with his son, also occasionally appears.

Although Tanner does not win the nomination, he does run a serious and credible race. The series ends on a cliffhanger after Dukakis officially becomes the Democratic candidate and Tanner considers a third party run.

Cabinet

Several members of Tanner's prospective cabinet are mentioned, with several making statements to the press accepting the appointment should he become president. Those mentioned include: [1]

Episodes

No.TitleOriginal air dateProd.
code
1"The Dark Horse"February 12, 1988 (1988-02-12)1A/1B
On the weekend before the New Hampshire primary, Congressman Jack Tanner and his daughter visit with potential voters, while his first campaign commercial is evaluated by a focus group.
2"For Real"March 14, 1988 (1988-03-14)2A
Tanner's passionate "For Real" commercial generates new interest in his campaign as he heads for Nashville. There, an apparent attempt on his life produces publicity and qualifies him for Secret Service protection.
3"The Night of the Twinkies"April 12, 1988 (1988-04-12)2B
Jack seeks the advice of an old friend, a civil rights activist, about how to reach African American voters.
4"Moonwalker and Bookbag"May 2, 1988 (1988-05-02)3A
After offending his friend, a Baptist minister, with an attempt at an impromptu press conference on the steps of the church, the campaign begins to freeze out media manager Stringer. At the same time, Tanner and his daughter must learn to cope with the constant protective presence of Secret Service agents and Berkoff interviews Tanner's father, exposing an unusual family dynamic.
5"Bagels with Bruce"May 16, 1988 (1988-05-16)3B
Tanner meets with fellow candidate Bruce Babbitt, who recently ended his campaign. Tired of being on the outs with the campaign, Stringer considers joining the Dukakis campaign where he discovers Tanner's girlfriend Joanna is a staff member.
6"Child's Play"June 6, 1988 (1988-06-06)4A
Tanner attends campaign events ranging from appearances at day care centers--where he talks to young children about tax abatements--and a Hollywood pool party. Afterward, a recently dismissed member of the Dukakis campaign approaches Tanner for a job, exposing Tanner's television and speech weaknesses.
7"The Great Escape"June 20, 1988 (1988-06-20)4B
Tanner attends a debate with Dukakis and Jesse Jackson where his comments about drugs become news. Mechanical troubles on the campaign plane lead to a stressful flight for everyone. Later, a reporter breaks the story on Tanner and Joanna's relationship, angering T.J., who did not know about it.
8"The Girlfriend Factor"July 11, 1988 (1988-07-11)5A
The campaign runs into problem after problem when they head to Detroit, including Tanner looking bad when "confronted" by a robot and looking bad kissing babies on camera. Meanwhile, David Seidelman, the reporter who broke the Tanner/Joanna story, finds himself in the campaign's doghouse. Later, Tanner spends an afternoon at a Detroit community meeting speaking to people about drugs and America's future.
9"Something Borrowed, Something New"July 17, 1988 (1988-07-17)5B
Alex plans Jack and Joanna's wedding, stressing over the minutest of details, only to have them call it off after General Tanner makes an inappropriate speech and Deke Conners swoops over the proceedings in a helicopter. Afterward, despite his being nearly out of the race, the campaign reads an article speculating on Tanner's would-be cabinet appointments.
10"The Boiler Room"August 11, 1988 (1988-08-11)6A
Having both lost at the Democratic National Convention, the Jackson and Tanner campaigns try some last minute trickery, with T.J. calling in coordinator Billy Ridenour (Harry Anderson) to work some "backroom magic". Unfortunately, the Jackson campaign's need for plausible deniability prevents Ridenour from speaking directly to Jackson and winds up costing Tanner.
11"The Reality Check"August 22, 1988 (1988-08-22)6B
Despite not winning the Democratic nomination and his former campaign's finances now being audited, rumblings of Tanner running as third party circulate through what is left of the campaign. T.J. investigates the possibilities and the series ends with Jack not answering Joanna's query that it would be obvious for him to endorse Michael Dukakis and instead ruminates on his possibilities.

Home media

DVD nameRelease date Region DiscsEpisodesBonus Features
Complete Series
Criterion Collection
October 5, 20041211
  • 2004 Sundance channel introductions
  • Essays by film critic Michael Wilmington and culture critic Gary Kornblau
  • A "video conversation" between Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau. [2]

The miniseries was produced and first broadcast on Home Box Office, scheduled irregularly over the real-life seven-month campaigning period from February through August 1988.

In 2004, the Sundance Channel rebroadcast the series, adding new one- to two-minute preludes created by Trudeau and Altman to each episode "in which the actors reflect, in character, on the '88 campaign from the perspective of the present day" [3] That October, Sundance produced a four episode sequel, Tanner on Tanner.

Production

The hybrid of fiction and reality that came to be the miniseries' trademark was initially accidental. [4] Trudeau described the concept behind the miniseries as wanting to "let the audience feel they're eavesdropping, to create a sense of authenticity by observing the process, to follow campaign culture in all its tribal ritesnot to make a topical movie about 1988." [4] Tanner evolved during production, becoming, as Altman put it, "two-thirds scripted and one-third found art." [4] Trudeau and Altman intended to make more episodes, but HBO did not extend the run of the series. [5]

Reception and influence

Reviews for the miniseries seem to improve over time. In one of the earliest reviews of the pilot episode, The New York Times called the show an "interesting misfire" that "insists too much on its own sophistication about politics". [6] The same paper held the second episode in higher esteem, calling it "humorous cinéma vérité" that's "slick and occasionally witty." [7] In its "Best of 1988" look at television, Time magazine called it: "the year's definitive satire of media politics." [8]

In a 2003 review of K Street , the New York Daily News said "Tanner skewer[ed] brilliantly the insanity and inanity of presidential politics." [9] By 2004, Slate was saying: [3]

More than a decade before the ascendancy of reality television, the series slyly blended fiction and documentary, with real-life political and media figuresBob Dole, Bruce Babbitt, and Linda Ellerbee among themcrossing paths with, and commenting upon, Tanner's grass-roots campaign. But Tanner's formal complexitya loose, layered blend of group improvisation, scripted set pieces, and the intervention of pure chancemanages to point up not only the laziness of reality shows like Survivor and The Bachelor but their moral and political vacuity.

While the two shows are stylistically very different, Aaron Sorkin has acknowledged that Tanner had an influence on The West Wing , which he created over a decade later, in its underlying idealism and in its view of political staffers as people who at least struggle to do the right thing.

In 2004, Altman said "I think it's the most creative work I've ever done." [10]

In 2019, Murphy appeared as Jack Tanner in the documentary, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese . [11]

Awards

Altman won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for the episode "The Boiler Room." Reed won an ACE Award for Best Actress in a Dramatic Series.

Related Research Articles

Garry Trudeau American cartoonist

Garretson Beekman Trudeau is a Pulitzer Prize winning American cartoonist, best known for creating the Doonesbury comic strip. Trudeau is also the creator and executive producer of the Amazon Studios political comedy series Alpha House.

1988 United States presidential election 51st quadrennial U.S. presidential election

The 1988 United States presidential election was the 51st quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 8, 1988. The Republican nominee, incumbent Vice President George H. W. Bush, defeated the Democratic nominee, Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. This was the first presidential election since 1948, and the most recent to date, in which a party won a third consecutive presidential term. This also remains the most recent election in which a candidate won over 400 electoral votes, and the last time a non-incumbent Republican candidate won the popular vote.

Michael Dukakis American politician

Michael Stanley Dukakis is an American retired politician and lawyer who served as governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1979 and again from 1983 to 1991. He is the longest-serving governor in Massachusetts history and only the second Greek-American governor in U.S. history, after Spiro Agnew. He was nominated by the Democratic Party for president in the 1988 election, losing to the Republican nominee, Vice President George H. W. Bush.

Cynthia Nixon American actress and politician

Cynthia Ellen Nixon is an American actress and activist. For her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series Sex and the City (1998–2004), she won the 2004 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She reprised the role in the films Sex and the City (2008) and Sex and the City 2 (2010). Her other film credits include Amadeus (1984), James White (2015), and playing Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion (2016).

Lloyd Bentsen American politician

Lloyd Millard Bentsen Jr. was an American politician who was a four-term United States Senator (1971–1993) from Texas and the Democratic Party nominee for vice president in 1988 on the Michael Dukakis ticket. He also served as the 69th United States Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton.

Willie Horton American murderer

William R. Horton is an American convicted felon who, while serving a life sentence for murder, was the beneficiary of a Massachusetts weekend furlough program. He did not return from his furlough, and ultimately committed assault, armed robbery, and rape before being captured and sentenced in Maryland where he remains incarcerated.

The 1988 National Convention of the U.S. Democratic Party was held at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia, from July 18 to 21, 1988, to select candidates for the 1988 presidential election. At the convention Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts was nominated for president and Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas for vice president. The chair of the convention was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Jim Wright.

In political campaigns, an attack ad is an advertisement whose message is designed to wage a personal attack against an opposing candidate or political party in order to gain support for the attacking candidate and attract voters. Attack ads often form part of negative campaigning or smear campaigns, and in large or well-financed campaigns, may be disseminated via mass media.

Robert M. "Bob" Shrum is the Director of the Center for the Political Future and the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics at the University of Southern California, where he is a Professor of the Practice of Political Science in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He is a former American political consultant, who has worked on numerous Democratic campaigns, including as senior advisor to the Kerry-Edwards campaign in 2004 and to the Gore-Lieberman campaign in 2000. Shrum wrote the famous speech Ted Kennedy gave at the 1980 Democratic National Convention conceding to and supporting President Jimmy Carter. He has been described as "the most sought-after consultant in the Democratic Party." Shrum served as speechwriter to New York Mayor John V. Lindsay from 1970 to 1971, speechwriter to Senator George McGovern's 1972 Presidential campaign and speechwriter and press secretary to Senator Edward M. Kennedy from 1980 to 1984 and political consultant until 2009.

Michael Murphy (actor) American film and television actor

Michael George Murphy is an American film, television and stage actor. He often plays unethical or morally ambiguous characters in positions of authority, including politicians, executives, and lawyers. He is also known for his frequent collaborations with director Robert Altman, having appeared in twelve films, TV series and miniseries directed by Altman from 1963 to 2004, including the title role in the miniseries Tanner '88. He is also known for his roles in films like Manhattan, An Unmarried Woman, Nashville, The Year of Living Dangerously, Phase IV, The Front, Shocker, Magnolia and Batman Returns.

<i>Tanner on Tanner</i> 2004 American TV miniseries by Robert Altman

Tanner on Tanner is a 2004 4-part comedy miniseries. It is the sequel to the 1988 Robert Altman-directed and Garry Trudeau-written miniseries about a failed presidential candidate, Tanner '88. The sequel focuses mostly on Alex Tanner, a struggling filmmaker and the daughter of onetime presidential candidate Jack Tanner.

"Sideshow Bob Roberts" is the fifth episode of the sixth season of the American animated television series The Simpsons. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on October 9, 1994. Kelsey Grammer returns in his fourth major appearance as Sideshow Bob, who, in this episode, wins the Springfield mayoral election through electoral fraud as his next plan to kill Bart. The episode received a favorable reception in the media, including a positive mention in I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide and Green Bay Press-Gazette. A review in Press & Sun-Bulletin placed the episode as the seventh best of the series.

1986 Massachusetts gubernatorial election

The 1986 Massachusetts gubernatorial election was held on November 4, 1986. Michael Dukakis was elected Governor of Massachusetts for a third term. He defeated Republican George Kariotis by a 65–30% margin.

1988 Democratic Party presidential primaries

The 1988 Democratic presidential primaries were the selection process by which voters of the Democratic Party chose its nominee for President of the United States in the 1988 U.S. presidential election.

2008 United States presidential election in Kansas Election in Kansas

The 2008 United States presidential election in Kansas took place on November 4, 2008, and was part of the 2008 United States presidential election. Voters chose 6 representatives, or electors to the Electoral College, who voted for president and vice president.

There have been numerous depictions of prime ministers of Canada in popular culture.

1988 United States presidential election in North Dakota Election in North Dakota

The 1988 United States presidential election in North Dakota took place on November 8, 1988. All 50 states and the District of Columbia were part of the 1988 United States presidential election. State voters chose 3 electors to the Electoral College, which selected the president and vice president.

1988 United States presidential election in Washington (state) Election in Washington

The 1988 United States presidential election in Washington took place on November 8, 1988. All fifty states and the District of Columbia, were part of the 1988 United States presidential election. Voters chose ten electors to the Electoral College, which selected the president and vice president.

Michael Dukakis 1988 presidential campaign

The 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis began when he announced his candidacy for the nomination on March 16, 1987, in a speech in Boston. After winning the nomination, he was formally crowned the Democratic Party's nominee at the party's convention in Atlanta, Georgia on July 21, 1988. He lost the 1988 election to his Republican opponent George H. W. Bush, who was the sitting Vice President at the time. Dukakis won 10 states and the District of Columbia, receiving a total of 111 electoral votes compared to Bush's 426. Dukakis received 46% of the popular vote to Bush's 53%. Many commentators blamed Dukakis' loss on the embarrassing photograph of him in a tank taken on September 13, 1988, which subsequently formed the basis of a successful Republican attack ad. Much of the blame was also laid on Dukakis' campaign, which was criticized for being poorly managed despite being well funded. He would have been the first Greek American President.

References

  1. "Something Borrowed, Something New"
  2. "Tanner '88". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  3. 1 2 Stevens, Dana (2004-02-04). "Primary Colors". Television. Slate . Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  4. 1 2 3 Harmetz, Aljean (1988-05-18). "Like a Real Candidate, Tanner Falls Flat in Hollywood". Arts. The New York Times . Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  5. Altman, Robert; Trudeau, Gary (2004). Tanner '88 Complete Series (DVD). The Criterion Collection . Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  6. Corry, John (1988-02-15). "TV Review; 'TANNER 88,' A SATIRE ON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS". Arts. The New York Times . Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  7. Corry, John (1988-03-15). "Review/Television; 'Tanner '88: For Real,' a Campaign". Arts. The New York Times . Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  8. "Best of '88". Time . 1989-01-02. Archived from the original on October 22, 2010. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  9. Bianculli, David (2003-09-16). "Been Down this 'Street'". Entertainment. New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  10. "A candidate to believe more than ever". Entertainment. CNN. 2004-02-02. Archived from the original on February 13, 2004. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
  11. Rizov, Vadim (June 10, 2019). "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese: Tangled Up in Tanner". Filmmaker . Retrieved July 21, 2019.