BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — There have been a long list of movies and television shows created that examined the life of American Presidents. As the saying goes, behind every great man there is a great woman and that is the focus of the new Showtime series, “The First Lady,” scheduled to launch at 9 p.m. April 17.

The examination of American leadership through the perspective lens of First Ladies features Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt. The series shines a light on the Ladies’ personal and political lives exploring everything from their journeys to Washington, family life and world-changing political contributions.

This series is not seen as a documentary but as historical fiction. That means each story is built around factual elements but the writers were given leeway filling in the gaps between these events.

Executive producer Cathy Schulman selected the three First Ladies as a way to show how that role has changed over the years.

“The first season is very much about voice and discovering voice.  Eleanor was, in my mind, the first modern First Lady in a quite literal way,” Schulman says. “She literally walked in and said, ‘Can I have an office?’  And everybody looked at her, like, ‘What would you do in an office?’

“She was the beginning of two really important social movements, one having to do with women’s rights and one having to do with desegregation.”

It fell to Anderson to play Roosevelt. She found in her research for the role that the most outstanding feature of Roosevelt was how frank she was when it came to life, politics or her marriage. She also found that Roosevelt dealt with a broken heart after discovering her husband’s affair with Lucy Mercer.

Betty Ford marked the beginning of the First Lady having an open‑minded freedom as a woman in the White House. Pfeiffer was honored to get the opportunity to play her.

“It’s one thing to be brave in the privacy of your own circumstances.  Betty Ford did it in front of the whole world and still managed to be fearless, frank, and kind,” Pfeiffer says. “For millions of women across this country, she wrote a new chapter of American history practically on a daily basis, shedding light on many issues no first lady had ever acknowledged, challenges that affected thousands of people while being utterly taboo to discuss from breast cancer to drug and alcohol abuse.

“From what I gathered in my research, Betty found a lot of her strength in her relationship with her husband and kids.  The other part she found in her own extraordinary strength of character.”

The selection of Michelle Obama gave the creative team the perspective of what desegregation looked like and what it didn’t look like years later. The fact it has only been a few years since she was the First Lady made the job easier and harder for Davis.

She knew that playing Michelle Obama was going to be different than anything else she had ever done. There was no margin of error.

“I had the insurmountable task of everyone knowing who Michelle Obama is.  Everybody has claimed ownership of her.  Everybody has a time period where they loved her hair or hated her hair or loved her eyebrows or hated her eyebrows, and they feel like they own her,” Davis says. “There is nothing about her that they want desiccated.  A lot of times, when you approach a character, you want their mess, but with Michelle Obama, it’s not like she beats her husband. 

“Exactly how she uses her mouth is how you have to use your mouth.  Exactly how she touches her pearls is how you have to touch your pearls.  So, I was terrified.  I’m not going to lie.  I was absolutely terrified.”

The selection of the three First Ladies featured in the initial season started with Michelle Obama. The producers then wanted to match her with other First Ladies who were incredibly strong women who had an absolute voice before they walked through the threshold of the White House.

But, once they arrived, they were told to never open their mouths again. The fact they continued to speak up is the thread that binds the three.

Executive producer Susanne Bier adds, “It’s also worthwhile noting that we are covering 120 years.  There is a kind of cohesiveness. It’s incredibly interesting that, over such a stretch of time, those women still share a common destiny and not just a common destiny but also, like, a common ability to act upon the destiny.”

A second season of “The First Lady” has not been ordered but the show is designed to be an anthology series that would take a different look at other First Ladies over the centuries. The executive producers will always select First Ladies who embody a particular concept or theme such as sickness or scandal.