TV show that portrayed Prince George’s in unflattering light is canceled by network

Thursday, May 4, 2006

‘‘Commander in Chief,” the show that had county and state officials lining up to defend the honor of Prince George’s County, has been canceled by ABC.

An episode that aired April 27 caused outrage and demands for an apology as Prince George’s County was portrayed as crime-infested and backwards. In the story, there were about a dozen murders in six months in Hyattsville, and families took to the streets to protest.

ABC did come back with an apology, acknowledging that the writers had ‘‘embellished the reality to enhance the story.”

‘‘I’m happy that ABC apologized, and now that the show is off, we don’t have to think about it every week when it goes on,” said Del. Justin Ross (D-Dist. 22) of Greenbelt. ‘‘We can just close that chapter in the county’s history ... ‘Commander in Chief’ may be canceled, but Prince George’s County still has rave reviews.”

The show, starring Geena Davis as the first woman president, began the season with critical raves and a large following. But viewers fell away as ABC made personnel changes behind the camera and changed its time slot.

The anger generated by the over-the-top description of Prince George’s led to some memorable verbal exchanges. At a news conference Friday, County Executive Jack B. Johnson asserted that the county is the wealthiest majority-black county in the nation where crime has dropped this year.

‘‘We stand here to refute the inaccurate portrayal of Prince George’s County,” said Johnson. He cited new schools, job growth and a booming real estate market. And he invited the show’s cast and crew to visit Prince George’s — something that may not happen now that the show has been canceled.

Hyattsville Mayor Bill Gardiner, also at the news conference, noted that his town has had 12 murders in 10 years, not six months as the show suggested. ‘‘The city is a safe community,” Gardiner said.

Later, Rushern Baker, who is challenging County Executive Jack Johnson’s reeletion bid: ‘‘Three years under Jack, we’re known for crime,” said Baker. ‘‘I’m sure the writers looked at the things you see on the news every night,” Baker said. Still, he said the episode was ‘‘over-the-top.”

Similar sentiment came from Vernon Hayes, who is running for the District 9 seat currently held by Councilwoman Marilynn Bland. ‘‘I am extremely saddened that increases in violent crime, and especially the establishment of a new county homicide record in 2005, has left Prince George’s County vulnerable to the types of negative portrayals made in ‘Commander in Chief.’

Hayes theorized that ABC’s experience last year in Prince George’s County, when the wife of a crewmember for ‘‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” was beaten during a burglary, contributed to the portrayal on national television.

County Councilman David Harrington (D-Dist. 5) of Cheverly objected to the way the show portrayed blacks.

The town hall meeting took place at a restaurant serving pork chops and chitterlings, food used to stereotype black communities.

‘‘Geena Davis can come here if she wants to,” said County Councilman David Harrington (D-Dist. 5) of Cheverly. ‘‘But let me tell you she’s not going to eat a pork chop.”

The county’s defense team also included a statewide officeholder. U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) on Monday wrote ABC saying its apology is ‘‘a good first step, but it is not enough.”

E-mail Judson Berger at