Bush's Maverick Media adviser goes Hollywood

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Less than a year after helping to re-elect George W. Bush as part of the Maverick Media team, GOP ad guru Stuart Stevens is now working for another commander in chief: Geena Davis.

Mr. Stevens is "consulting producer" and writer for ABC's new fall series, "Commander-in-Chief," which premieres Sept. 27 and stars the actress as an independent who gets an unexpected turn as president. Donald Sutherland plays the GOP speaker of the House.

For Mr. Stevens, 51, a film school graduate, this is just one of a number of career swings. He's written travel books, worked as a writer on the first post-pilot episode of "Northern Exposure" and on a number of other TV shows, even as he continues to do advertising for GOP candidates with partner Russ Schriefer in Stevens & Schriefer. Among other campaigns, he toiled on Bob Dole's unsuccessful presidential bid and Mel Martinez's more successful race last year for the Florida U.S. Senate.


"I like the balance," said Mr. Stevens, who now has a house in the Los Angeles area. "I think being involved in pop culture is a good thing for the political world. It helps sharpen your instincts."

He said the two worlds in some ways are very similar. "It's a lot like a campaign. There are irrevocable deadlines, a small group of people, it can be all-consuming and you have tracking numbers to show how you are doing."

There are other shared qualities between his full-time political job and what he calls his part-time job on the West Coast. "They also both benefit from lots of research. Good campaigns involve narratives and the story that you are presenting sometimes is biographical and sometimes where you want to lead the country, but the idea is get people to care about who you are. That is also the essence of good television."

Besides "Northern Exposure," Mr. Stevens has been a writer on "Mr. Sterling," and "I'll Fly Away"; co-producer of HBO's "K-Street" lobbyist program; and has sold a number of scripts for pilots.

His two lives also bear some stark differences. In his real-life job, he's sometimes called upon to deride opponents, as his team did in a Bush spot that poked fun at Sen. John Kerry's energy plan. The commercial featured a Charlie Chaplin-like figure in newsreel-like fashion to portray Mr. Kerry's energy plan as "wacky."

But in the TV series, he's called upon to present Ms. Davis' character as likeable, despite her affiliation as-horrors-an independent. He said he's helped along in doing so by focusing on Ms. Davis' family life along with her presidential duties. In the program, Ms. Davis plays an independent added to a GOP ticket to increase the ticket's strength only to suddenly land in the Oval Office after the president dies. The plot revolves not just around politics but also the strains the appointment causes her family.

Executive producer Rod Lurie, the ex-film critic and reporter who produced the Oscar-nominated film "The Contender," said Mr. Stevens was the first person ABC hired for the show, because of his GOP background and because he brings a good perspective on goings-on at the White House. (The other party's perspective comes from another writer on the show, Steve Cohen, the ex-Clinton administration aide who produced "Jack and Bobby" for The WB.)

Choosing Mr. Stevens was "a no brainer," said Mr. Lurie, because he's "a Republican and we have all these Democrats in Hollywood. We wanted to have an anti-partisan show and needed someone to steer us before we became too pansy-assed liberal."

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