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.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


For real.




Not Rated

Parents Guide:





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?


Jack Tanner: [writing in his diary] March 11, 1988. I've spent the day talking with contributors. Even after a year of such calls, it still amazes me how many ordinary citizens feel strongly enough about an election's outcome to give. Their faith lends much dignity to the whole process by which we choose our country's ...
[Alex knocks]
Alex Tanner: Dad? USA Today is on the other line. They want to know, if you were a fruit or a vegetable, which one would you be?
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User Reviews

Altman and Trudeau Are a Match Made in Movie Heaven
27 June 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

After a contentious decade for Robert Altman, during which he was pretty much shunned by the Hollywood system and made some of his worst films, it's only fitting that he should cap the decade off with an absolute triumph, this absorbing mini-series made for HBO.

I don't know why it took so long for someone to pair "Doonesbury" writer Garry Trudeau with Altman, because in retrospect, it seems like a match made in heaven. Both have the exact same sarcastic sense of humor and the talent for seeing the absurd in the mundane. They crafted a fascinating look into the world of political machinations, following the story of fictitious 1988 presidential candidate Jack Tanner but setting it against the real world of the democratic primaries. Therefore, actual members of the political scene at the time interact with star Michael Murphy as if he's a real presidential nominee, and the viewer is never sure what action is authentic and what is staged.

Murphy is superb as Tanner, and he's perfectly cast. Tanner is handsome and charismatic enough to make a fairly successful run for the nomination, but he's too bland and too nice to make it all the way. The series examines one of the major conundrums about American politics: to have a candidate with conviction and good ideas isn't enough. He must also be a personality and be able to navigate the tricky terrain of the American media, with the result that those who go farthest are those who know how to work the system, not those who are most honest. "Tanner '88" captured perfectly my own feelings about presidential elections. On the one hand, they're of supreme importance, because they determine who will be the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. But on the other hand, they seem like such pointless exercises, and it's hard to muster up the energy to care time after time.

But one of the strongest and most serious points made by this series comes in an episode in which Tanner visits the slums of Detroit in his home state of Michigan. He realizes that he is completely out of touch with the very people he promises to help, and has no clue about what their lives are really like. That's painfully true about our own leadership -- it was in 1988 and still is today. There's a vast and probably insurmountable gap between the privileged few who ever have the remotest hope of being president and the millions of average Americans over whom they govern.

All of the acting in "Tanner '88" is sensational, to the point where I forgot I wasn't just watching real people being filmed by a documentary filmmaker. Most notable are Pamela Reed, as Tanner's campaign manager, Cynthia Nixon, as his overbearing and very young daughter, and E.G. Marshall, who makes a few memorable appearances as Tanner's awful father.

This is a must see for Altman fans, or really anyone with an interest in American politics.

Grade: A+

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