LOS ANGELES – Bobby McCallister stands in the doorway of the school boiler room, nervous fingers clutching the edge of the battered satchel that was once his father’s.
For a long moment, the boy hesitates, filled with shame that he was one of the kids who had earlier trashed the room, damaging the shrine the janitor had set up in memory of a son killed in battle.
Then Bobby finds the courage to tell the janitor how badly he feels, how sorry he is, how he’s “not friends with those guys anymore.”
Life lessons and the way they shape character are the heart and soul of “Jack & Bobby,” (search) a new WB (search) drama premiering 9 p.m. Sunday about two brothers, one of whom grows up to become president of the United States.
But it’s not the the Jack and Bobby you know. The series is not about the young Kennedys.
Is this a deceptive pretense?
“I think we can call it a much sexier name if we were going to bait and switch,” producer-director Thomas Schlamme says coyly. “It sounds a lot better than ‘Jimmy & Billy’ or ‘Roger and Bill.’ ”
Co-creator Vanessa Taylor, however, acknowledges an abstract connection with the Kennedys: “It’s about the inspiration of the Camelot (search) era. That’s what we’re talking about — hope going forward.”
The pilot episode reveals which of the boys becomes president some 40 years later, so the audience of future episodes is provided with knowledge which, of course, the boys and their mother don’t possess.
Documentary-style interviews set in 2049 with people who have known and worked with the president are woven throughout.
Berlanti believes that revealing the future helps the emotional impact of the stories about the boys’ high school years.
Matt Long plays 16-year-old Jack, and Logan Lerman is 13-year-old Bobby. It’s the first TV series for both.
Lerman’s film roles include playing Mel Gibson’s youngest son in “The Patriot” and the 7-year-old version of the character portrayed by Ashton Kutcher in “The Butterfly Effect.” Long’s experience is mainly in the theater.
“It’s cool. I’ve never played older before. I’m only 12 and a half,” Lerman exclaims, moments after completing Bobby’s sensitive scene on a Hollywood studio lot.
Charmingly confident, Lerman says: “Of the scripts I read this year, this was my favorite. It’s very different from roles I’d played before.”
Long is 24 but looks much younger. He had been supporting himself with catering jobs in New York when he got the role as the popular and athletic Jack.
“This is what I’ve worked for for years and years and years,” Long says. “To have it come true is surreal.”
Christine Lahti, an Emmy winner for her work on “Chicago Hope,” plays the boys’ mother, Grace, a liberal, emotionally scarred college professor who was left to raise her sons alone. (Lahti’s husband, Schlamme is also an executive producer of “Jack & Bobby.”)
“She’s very flawed, very human, but also very loving and well meaning. Intellectually, she’s way ahead, but emotionally, she’s in some way really adolescent still.”
She believes many U.S. presidents had complicated relationships with their mothers, and her research on the subject included reading about Virginia Clinton and Rose Kennedy.