'Madam Secretary' Bosses on "Dramatic" New Storyline, Notes From the Oval Office

Barbara Hall and Lori McCreary talk with THR about what to expect from the next three pivotal episodes as well as stars Tea Leoni and Tim Daly's "electricity."
Courtesy of CBS

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the "Whisper of the Ax" episode of CBS' Madam Secretary.]

Answers are on the way during Madam Secretary's current trilogy.

CBS' Tea Leoni (Elizabeth McCord) drama returned Sunday from its recent hiatus, kicking off a set of three episodes that will offer more information about Marsh's (Brian Stokes Mitchell) death.

In Sunday's episode, Elizabeth is forced to clean up Jay's (Sebastian Arcelus) mess after he overlooks corruption in the loan program. Also, the investigation into Marsh's demise reveals that there is a mole, and the episode ends with Juliet (Nilaja Sun) having left a mysterious note for Elizabeth.

Executive producers Barbara Hall — who created the show — and Lori McCreary spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about what will be revealed in the next few episodes, the exacting notes they get from real-life government officials and why Leoni and Tim Daly (Henry McCord) work so well together. 

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What will viewers learn by the end of this trilogy?

Hall: We're going to get more deeply into the conspiracies surrounding the death of Vincent Marsh, which we introduced in the pilot, where the next three episodes will really put a lot of pieces of the puzzle in place. We're really focused on escalating the action surrounding that and getting to the center of the mystery surrounding his death and the conspiracies behind it.

McCreary: And also I would say into George's (William Sadler) death, and it's going to involve, as we usually do, an international story that puts Elizabeth right in the center of real-world things that are happening. 

How will the three episodes change the series' path?

Hall: I think certainly these three episodes are where the action escalates. They're still very heavy on the politics, and one of the things that's happening is that the mystery begins to run on parallel tracks with some real-world events, and so we're able to combine some of those elements with a major world-event story. I would say, if it's different, it's just that the volume's turned up a bit. 

So what is next in Elizabeth's family life?

Hall: I think it just puts a lot of pressure on the kids and on the marriage because they're dealing with such intense issues and events. It really pulls everyone together but also peels the layers back, as Lori was saying, on their own personal involvement in the story.

McCreary: And we'll be touching a little bit in just how being in this fishbowl, this is a family that has been under the radar for a while, is now going to be more in the public view and so how that affects the relationships and the children as they go through just their daily lives. 

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How has Elizabeth changed thus far, and how will she continue to evolve from the coming events?

Hall: I always felt that Elizabeth understands international politics because she comes from that world, but what she has to start to learn is sort of interoffice politics, and she's really beginning to understand how to work within the system in an effective way. And then the events in the trilogy are really going to change her in terms of her being able to process some very serious events and some things that most people don't have to go through. Also, [the] realization of what happened to her friend has a real personal impact. But I think she's gong to be putting herself in the center of some very intense international situations, and it has to have an effect on her.

Do you ever get feedback or notes from Washington?

McCreary: We get a lot of great feedback from a lot of different areas — from state, from White House. They have particular characters they love. Interestingly enough, they like the family dynamics a lot because they say that it's not really seen on television, behind the scenes what goes on to people whose lives are in public service, so they love that part. And then we have some people who tweet us or email us and say, "Hey, can you fix the flag in that certain room because in that certain ceremony, it would be on the other side." So we get both ends of the spectrum.

Hall: We also have political advisers who work with us on the show, and we bring them stories we'd like to tell, and they help us kick around various scenarios and how it could happen.

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How does the trilogy set up the season's conclusion?

Hall: The trilogy will take us right into the heart of what happened and why, and then the rest of the season will be dealing with the tentacles of that. There are still a lot of things that will be put in place and issues that have to be dealt with and Elizabeth will have to have closure on a lot of things. But we will also continue to help her find closure on these events and the things that they've put in motion. ... [The trilogy] is going to be dramatic. We'll see who's with her and who's against her.

McCreary: Part of what we're going to do is, because she inherited this staff from the prior Secretary of State, and as things unfold, she'll start asking the question, who is for her. We'll get to know some of her staff on a deeper level that way.

How has the show benefited from Tea and Tim's real-life romance?

McCreary: I don't know anything about Tea and Tim's relationship. What I do know is, on screen and when they're shooting their scenes, there is electricity, and that was from the pilot on. There is a connection that they have that I guess we call it that elusive chemistry that I think comes across on screen. That's what we concentrate on, and we think it's dynamic.

What else can fans expect from the upcoming episodes?

McCreary: If we're talking about Henry and Elizabeth, he's going to continue to be her rock. He's going to be helping provide insight and advice as Barbara's moral storylines bump up against her, so Elizabeth's going to hit some moral bumps, and against the responsibilities of the job, that relationship you'll find getting stronger and deeper. We'll at least be brought in to why they have such a strong relationship.

Madam Secretary airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@pgmedia.org
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski