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Powerful women, problem partners

On TV, female success often seems to come at a personal price.

Sam Keating (Tom Verica), husband to Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), on "How to Get Away with Murder" is not only a philanderer, he's troublingly dead, too.
Sam Keating (Tom Verica), husband to Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), on "How to Get Away with Murder" is not only a philanderer, he's troublingly dead, too.Read more

BEHIND every successful woman on television, there's a man (or two) causing her headaches.

Or so it seems this season, in which fictional women are getting ahead - running law firms, embassies, record companies, even the country itself - while the men in their lives flounder. Or worse.

Worse would be Dennis Boyd (Mark Moses), the professor husband of Martha Boyd (Laila Robins) on Showtime's "Homeland." He committed treason on his wife's watch as ambassador to Pakistan, leading to a bloody attack on the U.S. embassy.

Which makes his earlier drugging of "Homeland" main character Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) seem almost minor.

Worse would also be Sam Keating (Havertown's Tom Verica), husband of law professor and defense attorney Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), on ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder."

Another college professor, Sam may not have committed espionage, but he does seem to have slept with, and possibly murdered, one of his students. Also, he's now dead himself, and in a manner that's bound to cause even more problems for Annalise.

Not nearly as bad, but in some ways more annoying, is Luke Wheeler (Will Chase), the country-music superstar engaged to singer and recording-company founder Rayna James (Connie Britton) on ABC's "Nashville."

Luke's a big old baby, pretending to be one-half of a power couple, but then pouting his way through an awards show as his fiancee beat him in category after category.

Spouses don't have to be in competition for the woman's work to come between them.

In HBO's revival of "The Comeback," Mark Berman (Damian Young), the once-supportive husband of former sitcom star Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow), seems to be undergoing a change of heart just as it begins to look as if Valerie's stumbled into a bit of success.

On CBS' "Madam Secretary," which stars Téa Leoni as U.S. Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, the writers are going to considerable lengths to avoid making her husband, Henry (Tim Daly), into either a problem or an afterthought. It's been tough, since theology professors - yes, Henry, too, is a professor - aren't generally considered colorful. And few probably moonlight as secret agents, as Henry seems to.

That they're even trying, though, points to a perception, in Hollywood, at least, that a married woman in power can't just have a "regular" husband.

Whatever that is.

Fifty years ago, when Polly Bergen played the commander-in-chief in the movie "Kisses for My President," the story was told from the point of view of the first husband (Fred MacMurray), who spent most of the film getting into trouble - until he created what was then considered a happy ending by getting the president pregnant. She resigned.

That's unlikely to happen on NBC's "State of Affairs," where Alfre Woodard plays President Constance Payton. Her husband, Marshall (Courtney B. Vance), is only a recurring character and wasn't even in the pilot.

There's enough tension between the Paytons to suggest a Problem Husband plot isn't out of the question, but I hope the show won't go there.

One of my favorite things about CBS' "The Good Wife" is the way it's handled the tricky relationship between Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), the show's original Problem Husband, and his wife, Alicia (Julianna Margulies).

They may be not live together, but Alicia has few bigger boosters. And it's far more interesting to watch powerful people negotiating tricky territory than it is to see one declared a loser.

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray