Tanner '88 (1988– )

TV Series  |  Not Rated  |   |  Comedy
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Ratings: 8.0/10 from 607 users  
Reviews: 8 user | 24 critic

A behind-the-scenes look at a former Michigan U.S. representative's campaign as he vies for his party's Presidential nomination.

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Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 3 wins & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Series cast summary:
 Jack Tanner (11 episodes, 1988)
 T.J. Cavanaugh (11 episodes, 1988)
Daniel Jenkins ...
 Stringer Kincaid (11 episodes, 1988)
 Deke Connors (11 episodes, 1988)
 Andrea Spinelli (11 episodes, 1988)
 Alex Tanner (10 episodes, 1988)
Jim Fyfe ...
 Emile Berkoff (10 episodes, 1988)
 Molly Hark (10 episodes, 1988)
Frank Barhydt ...
 Frank Gatling (9 episodes, 1988)
Sandra Bowie ...
 Stevie Chevalier (8 episodes, 1988)
 Joanna Buckley (8 episodes, 1988)
 Hayes Taggerty (7 episodes, 1988)
 David Seidelman (7 episodes, 1988)
Greg Procaccino ...
 Barney Kittman (7 episodes, 1988)


A behind-the-scenes look at a former Michigan U.S. representative's campaign as he vies for his party's Presidential nomination.

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Not Rated

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Release Date:

15 February 1988 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Tanner: A Political Fable  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


(11 parts) | (10 parts)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


[making a toast at his son's wedding rehearsal dinner]
Tanner's Father: One hundred years ago, William Gladstone, after a particularly acrimonious debate in Parliament, bellowed across the floor at his arch-rival Benjamin Disraeli, "You, sir," he said, "will one day end your days on the gallows or of venereal disease." Disraeli raised himself up and replied, "That, sir, would depend on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."
Alex Tanner: Grandpa.
Tanner's Father: I tell this humorous story because it hasn't been altogether clear...
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User Reviews

Altman on the campaign trail- seamlessly scathing humor, peerless observations, a must-see
13 September 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Robert Altman and Gary Tredeau were a good match, and according to the DVD interview it makes a lot more sense than the simple notion of 'well, Doonsbury is a funny comic, Altman makes some funny movies.' As the two say and agree upon, it has to do with scenes, the behavior allotted not in a very rigid story structure but in what can be done just in one scene. Although the structure has to fit into half hour time slots, it's as epic in its own area as Altman's own Short Cuts, or even Band of Brothers in creating a world unto itself, as stark and true as possible to being there in person. As it ends up happening with Altman there are scenes that get cut into other scenes, perfectly, without a beat missed. Oh, sometimes a door closes and a door opens sort of cut might happen, which is fine, but as far as editing goes- which Altman says is when he starts to get much more in control as opposed to the loose approach to letting actors improvise (and with this, aside from the back-room scenes and really specific ones, there's a lot of it even for a production like Altman's)- it's much stronger than for a regular television show.

Which is interesting since it sometimes has that long feeling of an Altman shot here and there, or one that is held for longer than one might expect in a TV show; one crucial shot being when Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy) is shot unawares by a camera looking through a glass coffee table as he gives a passionate monologue to his campaign team after a bad day. Shots like these, or when two characters have a conversation for a stretch of time (i.e. Tanner and the governor Bruce Babbit talking along the Potomac) should be self-conscious, but they aren't. And other times the trademark Altmanesque approach to shooting is actually spot-on for a kind of soap opera quality to the proceedings that ends up lending itself to comedy more than the melodramatic moment of revelation. It's a great moment of comedy, for example, not merely in the look between Stringer (Daniel Kincaid) and Joanna Buckley (Wendy Crewson) as he knows it's Dukakis's campaign manager who's been sleeping around with Tanner, and likewise she knows he knows, but how the shot goes, a quick zoom in on each other's eyes, as if the audience didn't know- which of course we do- and the light touch of theme music in the background.

Tanner '88 is also great entertainment as far as being able to expect "For Real" reality, to quote an episode, as Tanner encounters real politicians, for the most part not knowing that it's a fictional show (Pat Robertson, for example). We know how this will all end, but the question of the how and when is what strikes up drama and madness in equal measure, as if even in the most predictable means it adds to the appeal (new campaign supervisors on how to speak more forcefully and with strict attention, then the scandal(s), awkward campaign stops, a not-quite assassination attempt as one of the funniest asides, dissension from reporters). And touches of irony help along the way, like how Veronica Cartwright's reporter, who at first is not getting much of the scoop, and how she soon acquires the fired former camerman on Tanner's inner circle (let go for an uproariously stupid montage video on drug legalization, taken mostly from Tanner's notebook) who shoots like many a pretentious reality-TV cameraman- and then also reports first on the affair scandal to boot! I also liked how Kitty Dukakis got figured into the actual storyline, as opposed to just another throwaway political figure.

And all the while Murphy is a total pro- robbed of an Emmy severely in fact- and there ends up being more for him to do as an actor, in playing a sympathetic but flawed character who as TJ describes about his running for president is like a "lifestyle choice." Pamela Reed, Cynthia Nixon and Ilana Levine make up the principle female characters, all with their own pragmatic, optimistic, and just frustrated views on the campaign trail, and they're great to have in the midst of an otherwise predominantly male cast. It's important that they too are right on the ball with Murphy at just saying the right things when diverting from Trudau's script. Suddenly it doesn't feel like we're simply seeing a fictional account of a debate between Tanner, Jesse and Dukakis, but it's more immediate than that. Even more-so than Primary Colors we're given a first-hand look at the process, the ugliness and dirty side, the idiots and mistakes made consistently, the cynicism and irony, and how the media and politics are inseparable and insufferable depending on the beat. And it has the immediacy of news while keeping a hold on the multi-dimensional framework that Altman mastered in his career.

Taken as a whole work it is very long, but worth every moment of extra characterization, and ever extra song performance of the theme (my favorite was the hair metal version at the fundraiser in Los Angeles), and it's one of the most insightful, amusing, and superlative works from a quintessential American director.

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