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The Powers That Be (TV series)

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The Powers That Be
Created byDavid Crane
Marta Kauffman
Directed byHal Cooper
Art Wolff
StarringJohn Forsythe
Holland Taylor
Eve Gordon
Peter MacNicol
Valerie Mahaffey
Elizabeth Berridge
David Hyde Pierce
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Robin Bartlett
Opening theme"The Powers That Be" performed by Stephen Bishop
ComposerMarvin Hamlisch
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes21 (5 unaired)
Executive producerNorman Lear
ProducersRon Burla
Patricia Fass Palmer
CinematographyDan Kuleto
Camera setupMulti-camera
Production companiesAct III Television
Castle Rock Entertainment
Columbia Pictures Television
Original release
ReleaseMarch 7, 1992 (1992-03-07) –
January 2, 1993 (1993-01-02)

The Powers That Be is an American television sitcom that was broadcast on NBC, premiering on March 7, 1992. It was created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, with Norman Lear as executive producer. It aired for two seasons, with 21 episodes, airing its final episode on NBC on January 2, 1993. During the week of January 18-22, 1993, USA network aired episodes that never aired on NBC


At the center of the series is U.S. Senator William Powers, a parody of the political establishment in Washington, D.C. Margaret, the senator's status-hungry wife, treats Charlotte, their maid, with comedic disdain. Caitlyn, the senator's daughter, has an eating disorder and is married to Representative Theodore Van Horne, who is suicidal; their son, Pierce, is mature beyond his years from having to care for his unbalanced parents. Sophie Lipkin, the senator's illegitimate daughter, is a loud, crass New Jerseyan who surprises the family when she moves to Washington and begins to bond with her father. The senator's staff includes an intelligent and beautiful aide, Jordan Miller — who is also Powers' mistress — and the feckless aide Bradley Grist.


  • John Forsythe as William Powers, the senior United States senator from an unnamed New England state. He is a liberal Democrat. Powers is basically a good man who wishes to do the best for his constituents and is kind to his unfortunate maid Charlotte, son-in-law Theodore, and grandson Pierce. However, he is also something of a ladies' man, having an affair with his aide Jordan.
  • Holland Taylor as Margaret Powers, William's wife. She is a status-seeking "superbitch" – her only interest is in what others think (when Pierce hacks into his school computer, she says that's fine, but when it is revealed he got caught, she is furious). She ingratiates herself with Hillary Clinton in order to have her husband made Ambassador to Britain, although this only results in her giving people food poisoning. Margaret strongly dislikes Bill's daughter Sophie, but pleads with her not to move out their home, as then Bill's mother would have to stay with them. She is always trying to get one up on her friend, Mimzie. Nancy Reagan once gave Margaret a pistol as a gift.
  • Eve Gordon as Jordan Miller, Bill Powers' chief of staff and mistress. She is beautiful, confident and savvy and is keen to promote her boss's career. She has an Electra complex about the Senator, calling him "Daddy".
  • Peter MacNicol as Bradley Grist, Powers' press secretary. Bradley is a parody of political aides. He is willing to do anything to make his boss look good; for example, when Powers is accidentally shot, Bradley's first thought is as to how it can be spun. He is generally unlucky in his flirtations; however, in one episode he does accidentally marry General Gurdy Walker, his mother's best friend, who "hit Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm".
  • Valerie Mahaffey as Caitlyn Van Horne, Bill and Margaret's daughter. Caitlyn is very unhappy in her marriage and begins an affair with Joe Bowman, her father's election opponent. Not very bright, and very shallow, Caitlyn is nevertheless quite a sweet-natured woman.
  • David Hyde Pierce as Theodore Van Horne, Caitlyn's husband. Theodore was first elected to Congress in 1987, but first made his maiden speech in 1993- it was the shortest speech ever made in the House. He is incredibly shy and often suicidal, but he is friends with his son Pierce.
  • Elizabeth Berridge as Charlotte, Bill and Margaret's maid. Charlotte is very deferential and quiet. However, she falls in love with Theodore. Margaret abuses her, and she does leave in one episode.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Pierce Van Horne, Caitlyn and Theodore's son, who is more clever than his parents, and manages to hack into his school's computer.
  • Robin Bartlett as Sophie Lipkin, Bill's illegitimate daughter from a liaison in Korea. She was brought up by a Jewish mother in New Jersey. She lived with a man called Larry but left him because of his inconsiderate behaviour. Margaret and Caitlyn avidly dislike Sophie as she is loud and irrepressible- but ironically, she is a far smoother political operator than the two Establishment insiders. Sophie works in Bill's office.


Although the program was short lived, several of the principals subsequently became involved in long-running and popular sitcoms created after the show's demise. Series creators Crane and Kauffman went on to develop Friends, which lasted 10 years. Among the actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt took a role in 3rd Rock from the Sun, Robin Bartlett played a recurring part on Mad About You, Peter MacNicol would soon reach fame with a similar eccentric character, lawyer John Cage, in FOX's Ally McBeal, and David Hyde Pierce was chosen for his role as Niles Crane in the series Frasier partly on the basis of his work in this program.[1][2] Holland Taylor had a high-profile recurring role on the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. The series also featured John Forsythe in what became his last major starring role on television.

In a 2021 interview, Taylor mentioned the show, saying "I did this fantastic show for Norman Lear called Powers That Be. The network didn’t really understand what they had on their hands, and it did not have a long life, much to everyone’s sorrow. It was a wonderful satire."[3]


Series overview[edit]

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
18March 7, 1992 (1992-03-07)April 18, 1992 (1992-04-18)
213November 7, 1992 (1992-11-07)January 2, 1993 (1993-01-02)

Season 1 (1992)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date Viewers
11"The Love Child"Norman LearT : Charlotte Brown;
S/T : David Crane & Marta Kauffman
S : Charlotte Brown;
T : David Crane & Marta Kauffman
March 7, 1992 (1992-03-07)18.5[4]
22Hal Cooper
Senator Powers, in the middle of a tough re-election campaign with a local hero, finds that he has an additional potential obstacle to his re-election—an illegitimate daughter. Being accepted in Washington takes a back seat when Sophie goes head-to-head with the rest of the family.
33"Bill Gets Shot"Art WolffGraham YostMarch 14, 1992 (1992-03-14)15.3[5]
It's Caitlyn and Theodore's anniversary and Margaret is insistent that Sophie not join the family for dinner. Meanwhile, the campaigning Senator is in need of some publicity, but he didn't expect it to come from Theodore's botched suicide attempt—which results in Bill being shot in a very undignified location.
44"My Mother, My Self"Art WolffRon BurlaMarch 21, 1992 (1992-03-21)16.9[6]
Not being asked to a White House luncheon for Princess Diana is bad enough, but Margaret really gets upset when her efforts only result in Caitlyn being invited instead. Margaret then tries to play on Caitlyn's insecurities to secure the invitation for herself, including playing her trump card—Sophie. Meanwhile, Bill just wants the family to get along.
55"Dirty Politics"Art WolffBob SandMarch 28, 1992 (1992-03-28)14.2[7]
Margaret, Jordan and Bradley scheme to discredit the Senator's opponent, the now-handicapped, former-pro footballer, Joe Bowman (Craig Bierko). The result is a faked videotape of Bowman hopping out of his chair. The press discovers that the tape is a fake. Bill visits Bowman in a last-ditch effort to save his aids from being fired, and Bill is startled by what he finds.
66"Kiss Me Caitlyn"Art WolffGraham YostApril 4, 1992 (1992-04-04)13.8[8]
The Senator and his aides have no choice but to offer Joe Bowman a public apology—in spite of his paralysis secretly being a sham. Meanwhile, Bowman sets his sights on seducing Caitlyn to have someone inside the Senator's camp. Caitlyn finds herself simultaneously charmed and repulsed by Mr. Bowman while she contemplates having an affair with him. Meanwhile, Bill and Margaret share a spontaneous night of passion.
77"Bill and Margaret's Excellent Adventure"Art WolffAnne ConvyApril 11, 1992 (1992-04-11)13.2[9]
After Bill & Margaret's unexpected night of passion, Bill considers ending his relationship with Jordan in favor of the chance at rekinding the fire in his marriage—leaving Jordan fuming and shocked. Meanwhile, Caitlyn can't get Joe Bowman out of her head, and Bradley gets high from pain killers that he is taking for a kidney stone.
88"Charlerella"Art WolffRon BurlaApril 18, 1992 (1992-04-18)15.4[10]
The Powers household is invited to attend a ball in the Senator's honor, but Margaret conveniently forgets to invite Charlotte until it's too late. Theodore stays behind to wait for Caitlyn, but winds up spending a romantic evening with Charlotte when they get snowed in. Caitlyn, meanwhile, slinks off to Joe Bowman's hotel room, and the blizzard keeps the rest of the Powers clan trapped in their limo.

Season 2 (1992–93)[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date Viewers
91"A Chicken in Every Pot"Hal CooperMady JulianNovember 7, 1992 (1992-11-07)12.7[11]
To curry favor, Margaret donates her chicken salad to the favorite charity of the new First Lady, who falls ill after eating it. Meanwhile, Theodore and Charlotte try to fight their attraction for each other.
102"Bill's Dead...Not"Hal CooperNancylee MyattNovember 7, 1992 (1992-11-07)12.7[11]
The Senator takes a road trip to visit his elderly mother, Enid Powers (Cloris Leachman) and picks up a hitchhiker—who turns out to be a carjacker. As Bill then tries to make his way to his mother's home, the carjacker crashes the car into a gas tanker, leaving the family and the press to believe that the Senator has been killed. As the Powers camp mourns Bill, Margaret contemplates accepting her husband's Senate seat.
113"I'm Your Dummy"Hal CooperJulie ThackerNovember 14, 1992 (1992-11-14)10.9[12]
Theodore volunteers to be the Senator's dummy in a ventriloquist act that everyone else finds embarrassingly bad.
124"How Sharper Than a Servant's Tooth"Hal CooperRon BurlaNovember 21, 1992 (1992-11-21)11.6[13]
A crisis back in the Senator's home state is nothing compared to the crisis in the Senator's household—Charlotte wants to quit because of her secret feelings for Theodore. Meanwhile, Jordan is frustrated that Margaret's problems are more important to Bill than celebrating the anniversary of their relationship together.
135"The Intern"Hal CooperRon BurlaNovember 28, 1992 (1992-11-28)11.6[14]
Jordan and Margaret both suspect that the Senator's new female intern (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) has designs on him.
146"Sophie's Big Decision"Hal CooperGraham YostDecember 5, 1992 (1992-12-05)9.9[15]
Just as Sophie asks Margaret for some tips on fitting into the Washington scene, Larry (Robert Picardo), the boyfriend who always kept her down shows up to take her back to New Jersey. Meanwhile, Margaret is desperate to get a Supreme Court Justice to show up at her party, and Bradley and Jordan try to show each other up by getting the most influential guests at the event.
157"Oh, Mack"Hal CooperRod ParkerDecember 12, 1992 (1992-12-12)9.6[16]
A visiting Hollywood mogul (Victor Garber) charms everyone in the Senator's household—except the Senator, who starts to suspect that something is amiss. Meanwhile, each of the ladies thinks that she's the object of their guest's desires.
168"St. Caitlyn of Shears"Hal CooperNancylee MyattJanuary 2, 1993 (1993-01-02)8.9[17]
A bad haircut causes Caitlyn to come to a personal crisis and decide she is too caught up in materialism. Meanwhile, Bradley is desperate to get the Senator media attention after his name is not included on the list of the most influential Democrats in the new administration.
179"Having a Ball"Hal CooperGraham YostUnaired (Unaired)N/A
The Powers are ecstatic when they are invited the Presidential motorcade for Clinton's inauguration, but when Jordan is excluded, she tries to make Bill jealous by making plans with an old boyfriend. As the delayed Powers and a bicycling Bradley brave the icy roads in hopes of catching up with the President, Theodore worries that Charlotte thinks he forgot her birthday.
1810"Bradley Gets Fired"Hal CooperRod BurtonUnaired (Unaired)N/A
When a malingering Bradley is fired, Mrs. Powers takes over as press liaison.
1911"Grammargate: Part 1"Hal CooperRod BurtonUnaired (Unaired)N/A
While drunk, Bradley makes the mistake of his life; as does Pierce when he hacks into the school's computer. Meanwhile, Theodore has troubles of his own.
2012"Grammargate: Part 2"Hal CooperRod BurtonUnaired (Unaired)N/A
While trying to rectify the situation for Pierce, Margaret and Caitlyn find they have their own trouble. Consummation is the answer to Bradley's problems, and Theodore conquers his fear.
2113"Grandma's Big Decision"Hal CooperGraham YostUnaired (Unaired)N/A
Bill's mother (Cloris Leachman), shows up just before her 93rd birthday and announces that she's moving in until she dies. Then she asks her already frustrated daughter-in-law to kill her off! Meanwhile, Sophie surprises Jordan when she moves into her apartment building, leaving Jordan concerned that the Senator's nosy daughter will discover their affair.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Levine, Ken; Casey, Peter (2006-12-07). "More Frasier". By Ken Levine. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  2. ^ Schruers, Fred (1998). "David Hyde Pierce - The US Interview". DHPzone.com. US Weekly. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved June 11, 2007.
  3. ^ McHenry, Jackson (2021-08-23). "The Chair Gave Holland Taylor a Crash Course in Chaucer". Vulture. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  4. ^ Donlon, Brian (March 11, 1992). "'Indy' boosts ABC". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  5. ^ "Hit comedies lift ABC". Life. USA Today. March 18, 1992. p. 3D.
  6. ^ "CBS ticks off another win". Life. USA Today. March 25, 1992. p. 3D.
  7. ^ Donlon, Brian (April 1, 1992). "'Room' in the top 10 for ABC". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  8. ^ Gable, Donna (April 8, 1992). "Oscar sweep extends to ABC". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  9. ^ Gable, Donna (April 15, 1992). "CBS' historic jump". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  10. ^ Gable, Donna (April 22, 1992). "'Roseanne' leads ABC's way". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  11. ^ a b Gable, Donna (November 11, 1992). "Election news, football kick up ABC's ratings". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  12. ^ Gable, Donna (November 18, 1992). "'Jacksons,' solid gold for ABC". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  13. ^ Gable, Donna (November 25, 1992). "Jacksons help as-easy-as-ABC win". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  14. ^ Gable, Donna (December 2, 1992). "'Weapon 2' serves CBS well". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  15. ^ Gable, Donna (December 9, 1992). "ABC's Tuesday lineup ends up rosy". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  16. ^ Donlon, Brian (December 16, 1992). "No royal ratings for ABC's 'Charles and Diana'". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.
  17. ^ Gable, Donna (January 6, 1993). "Amy Fisher tales find followings". Life. USA Today. p. 3D.

External links[edit]