A Brief History of First Ladies on Sitcoms

In 2009, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to sit down for a TV talk show interview, on The Tonight Show. Big deal. First Ladies of the United States have been showing up on TV for years—and on sitcoms to boot.

Betty Ford

In a 1976 episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou (Ed Asner) and Mary (Moore) travel to Washington, D.C., and Lou tells Mary about all the big political bigshots he met. Mary doesn’t believe him, until he hands her a phone…and First Lady Betty Ford is on the other end. Ford shot her scenes separately—it was easily set up because her press secretary was friends with a Moore Show producer. (Ford allegedly wasn’t the first choice—the show wanted President Ford, but CBS thought that since it was an election year, it might violate the candidate “equal time” law.)

Nancy Reagan

Most First Ladies devote a lot of their time to a public service, cause, or charity. For Nancy Reagan, it was stemming the rising tide of youth drug abuse. Serving as the public face for the “Just Say No” campaign, Reagan even showed up on an episode of NBC’s Diff’rent Strokes.

Hilary Clinton

This one didn’t actually happen…but it almost did. Earlier this year, the Bill Clinton Presidential Library released once-confidential documents. One of them was an internal 1995 White House memo from Hillary Clinton’s press secretary Lisa Caputo to her chief of staff Maggie Williams trying to set up a cameo for the First Lady on the popular ’90s sitcom Home Improvement. Rick Kaplan, an executive at ABC and friend of the Clintons, proposed the idea. “Home Improvement would very much like to have Hillary on its show. They are willing to do a show on women, children, and family issues or whatever issues Hillary would like.” The First Lady ultimately decided it wasn’t a very dignified idea.

Michelle Obama

The NBC comedy Parks and Recreation is set in the world of small-town politics, but its featured some national political cameos, including Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John McCain. The show’s sixth-season finale, set to air in late April will include a cameo from First Lady Michelle Obama. The details of the appearance are being kept under wrap, but this isn’t actually Obama’s first sitcom appearance. In 2012, she appeared on Nickelodeon’s kid-sitcom iCarly to discuss her childhood fitness initiatives and recognize the sacrifice of military families (and also because it was her daughters’ favorite show at the time).