PopPolitics: How ‘Madam Secretary’ Became an Antidote to Dark D.C. Dramas (Listen)

2/282/2015   Variety   by

Madam Secretary,” which returns on Sunday on CBS after a brief hiatus, has made a mark for what it isn’t — a tick-tock thriller or dark serialized drama that is part of the current wave of D.C.-set shows.

The show stars Tea Leoni as a CIA analyst who is unexpectedly nominated to the top role at the State Department.

Executive producers Barbara Hall and Lori McCreary tell Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM that the show avoids polarization — even though it has featured very-close-to-reality storylines about negotiations over Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the standoff over the Texas border with Mexico.

“Certainly there is an aspirational aspect to the show that this is the way we would like to think the way things could be resolved, because we do want to stay within the realm of reality and we do want to invite people into the process,” Hall says.

“We have to be very careful so we have an actual calculus for that,” she adds. “We are saying the story is about one election cycle in the future, maybe four or five years, something like that. So we are writing about current events, but it is a little bit of a projection.”

The writers do generate ideas from the headlines. Hall says that when she first heard about the controversy surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, she thought, “We should do that.”

The show, one of this season’s biggest new successes, already has been renewed for next year.

“I wanted to create a discussion about politics that didn’t have to be so polarized and polarizing,” Hall says. “So it is actually our mission not go there, and not to present platforms and positions and campaigns.”

Listen below:

McCreary and Hall talk about how the show has to be careful in its depiction of real-life countries, with movies like “The Interview” sparking international incidents from North Korea and “Homeland” drawing objections from Pakistan. “I think we feel more responsibility than pressure,” Hall says.

Listen below:

McCreary says the “spark of a tiny idea” for the show came from Hillary Clinton’s 2012 testimony over the attacks in Benghazi, but Hall created an original premise that diverged from Clinton’s tenure and background. It focuses extensively on the relationship between Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord, her husband Henry (Tim Daly) and her children.

Hall believes that they are past the initial media questions of whether the show is in anyway based on Clinton, but it remains to be seen if it will come up again if Clinton runs for president in 2016.

Listen below:

Harold Ford Jr., honorary co-chair of the industry group Broadband for America, warns that the FCC’s net neutrality action will have a “chilling effect on the ecosystem.”

Listen below:

Comedian Chris Bliss talks about the Let Freedom Laugh concert in Washington on Saturday, with Lewis Black headlining a benefit for Bliss’ campaign to install monuments to the Bill of Rights at statehouses in all 50 states.

Listen below:

“PopPolitics,” hosted by Ted Johnson, airs Thursdays at 2 p.m. ET on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel 124.



Talking Politics With This Summer’s Crop of Washington Interns

6/15/2014 | New York Magazine

College students swarm the gridlocked capital for the summer, armed with hope for bipartisanship, personal talking points, and brand-new suits. Here, we talk to ten of them.

1. Wanda Zhan
Office of Democratic Representative Mike Honda

Fremont, California
“I was always the most informed on government in my group of friends, so everyone knew to come to me with questions on that. We’re from Silicon Valley, a pretty educated part of the country, so if they don’t know what’s going on, I can only imagine the rest of the country.”

2. Akinyi Ochieng
Justice Department Office of International Affairs
Washington, D.C.
“I went to Sidwell Friends School. My dad works at the World Bank, and my mom works for the FDA. I was always expected to engage in discussions with adults about politics.”

3. Aaron Mukerjee
Democratic Governors Association
Saline, Michigan
“I’m actually staying with two Republicans, and I’m a Democrat. We talk about issues we agree on—and we agree on 90 percent of things.”

4. Jon Buchleiter
American Enterprise Institute

Fort Collins, Colorado
“I love the monuments. I’ll just come down to Washington or Jefferson and read while the sun goes down over the Tidal Basin. I haven’t really
picked up on the nightlife too much.”

5. Joanne Dynak
Department of Health and Human Services

“I had to make sure all my suits still fit. I had to get a new blazer or two. I do a lot of politics-related things in college, so I felt relatively well prepared.”

6. Emily Wilson
Office of Republican Senator Jerry Moran

Overland Park, Kansas
“Some [of the adults in my office] are intimidating. But most of them started as Hill interns at one point too.”

7. Briana Burroughs
Republican Majority for Choice*
Virginia Beach
“I didn’t learn much from sex ed. I learned how much pregnancy costs, and abstinence. Empowering people to know about the risks of sexual activity, and the solutions, is a huge part of fiscal responsibility.”

8. Max McGee
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Cedar Rapids, Iowa
“I work long hours. I also work a second job at District Commons as a host. But I love walking through neighborhoods like Logan Circle and U Street in the afternoon, in the summer specifically. When everyone’s getting off work, there’s a different vibe.”

9. MacLane Taggart
United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

East Millcreek, Utah
“I’m gonna be writing a policy paper on what the government should do with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s a complicated issue.”

10. Derek Soled
Senate HELP Committee Health Policy Office

Randolph, New Jersey
“Working on the Affordable Care Act is really enjoyable. It sort of puts all of us in the heat. Yes, it is controversial, but it is the law at this point, and it is being implemented full force. This is what we have to work with; let’s make it better. It’s not a question at this point, especially not to the interns.”

*This article appears in the June 16, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

This article has been corrected to show that Briana Burroughs works for Republican Majority for Choice, not Republicans for Choice.



Washington, D.C., the Most-est Place in the Country

The nation’s capital: It’s the richest, gayest, most educated, most expensive and most economically optimistic place in America.

You’ve heard some of those superlatives, right? Take them with a big grain of skepticism.

When government agencies or private research groups release state-by-state information, they often include the District of Columbia. That makes sense. Citizens of the district are part of this country (albeit without the same democratic rights as other citizens).


Number 9 Bar in Washington, D.C., is popular with gay men. CreditVanessa Vick for The New York Times

But even if Washington deserves a place on national lists alongside the 50 states, it isn’t very similar to any of them. It’s a city. And cities are, by and large, richer, gayer, more educated, more expensive and more economically optimistic. Take education. The typical ranking of states makes Washington look to be by far the most educated place in the country. About 50 percent of its residents have at least a bachelor’s degree. No state exceeds 40 percent. But a ranking of cities looks different: Washington still does very well, but is in third place, not first. Seattle (56 percent) and San Francisco (51 percent) are both more educated.

I suspect the Washington superlatives make the rounds because they’re easy to make, because the city is filled with journalists and because the comparisons feed the irresistible storyline of Washington-as-bizarre. But before we pronounce Washington special, for good or ill, it’s worth asking whether we’re fooled ourselves.

(I tip my Washington Nationals cap to Byron Tau of Politico, who had a succinct tweet on this issue Wednesday.)