He has portrayed a senator (in The American President), the Commander in Chief (in the TV-movie Fail Safe) and a secretary of state (in an upcoming TV-movie about the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan). As such, it's fitting that what ultimately led Academy Award-winner Richard Dreyfuss to star in CBS's The Education of Max Bickford (premiering Sunday at 8 pm/ET) was television's acclaimed look at White House life.

"The West Wing was pretty persuasive," says Dreyfuss of what made him commit to a series. "When I realized that one could write like that about a subject like that, and that the quality could remain so high, my fear went down."

In fact, it is Dreyfuss's hope that Max Bickford, in which he portrays a college professor, does for teaching what West Wing did for the world of politics. "Next to lawyers, politicians are probably the least-respected people in America," offers the actor, "but The West Wing is a hit because it presents them not as they really are, but as who they should be. So we're going to find things about teaching that makes people appreciate everything they do."

If the Mr. Holland's Opus star seems impassioned about educating, it's for good reason. "When I was 12, I [knew] that I wanted to be a movie star, then a history professor, and then I'd go into politics, and then retire," he recalls. "And the only thing that's changed is I don't want to go into politics. But [Max Bickford], in a sense, is a halfway house to my dream."