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CBS is getting political with its new Sunday freshman drama with Tea Leoni.
Madam Secretary, from executive producers Barbara Hall, Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary, centers on the personal and professional life of a maverick female secretary of state, Elizabeth McCord (Leoni), as she drives international diplomacy, wrangles office politics and balances a complex family life.
The idea was borne out of a lunch conversation between McCreary, Freeman and CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler around the time of the Benghazi trials, which prompted questions about how highly sensitive situations would be handled in D.C. It was crucial, from Hall’s perspective, that Madam Secretary operate on multiple levels: focusing on the personal life as well as international and government politics.
The Hollywood Reporter shares five things to know about Madam Secretary.
1. Leoni returns to the small screen. The 48-year-old actress had not starred in a series television show since the 1990s comedy The Naked Truth. (She guest-starred on a 2000 episode of The X-Files and starred in a TV pilot in 2011 that never went to series.) But it was Hall’s “spectacular” pilot that sold her, she said in July during the Television Critics Association press tour. “I’ve always really enjoyed [playing] a lively fish out of water and pretty much by about page two of the script, I knew that’s what this was going to be,” Leoni said.
2. Meeting the first female Secretary of State. Though there was never serious consideration of calling the show Madam President amid rumors of Hillary Clinton‘s possible presidential run in 2016, Hall and pilot director David Semel had lunch with one real-life Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who served from 1997-2001, through Leoni and co-star Tim Daly. (Albright attended Madam Secretary‘s premiere in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.) “She’s very, very eager to weigh in and help us,” Hall said. “She’s very excited about the show, so that was a great moment.”
3. No pantsuits here. Just because a show centers on woman in a powerful D.C. political position doesn’t mean fashion has to go out the window. As costume designer Amy Roth explained to Pret-a-Reporter, “I think Elizabeth’s style is more easygoing than Hillary’s. She’s more subtle. It’s a modest sensibility, and it’s hip thinking. It’s very progressive to just go in to the job and not make it about you.’ ” Expect fewer pantsuits and more feminine, curvy silhouettes from designers such as Giorgio Armani, Stella McCartney and The Row. “She’s not concealing her femininity,” Roth said.
4. Balancing resolution. One of the biggest challenges Hall admitted to facing is satisfactorily solving an issue within the confines of the one-hour space while being realistic to larger global conflicts that have spanned years and decades, such as Syria. “You’re right. You can’t resolve them. They’re ongoing. Although more often than not, you can find moments of resolution within ongoing problems, and that’s one of the things we will do,” Hall said. One of the ways she addressed that is also focusing on the interoffice politics within the State Department. “Her trying to get along with the president’s chief of staff is as much of her dilemma as trying to fix kids being kidnapped in Syria, and then whatever happens at home, too.” But Hall acknowledged that that formula may not be applied all the time. “Trying to turn it into someone who just is a superhero fixing international problems is not going to work for us,” she said.
5. Chances of a Freeman cameo. Freeman, who serves as an executive producer, commented about the possibility that he’ll appear on the show in any capacity. “Whether or not I show up actually is going to depend on Barbara and what kind of ideas she comes up with in that smart head of hers,” he said. “We’ve got Tim here whose character is a religious professor. There may be some place in that for me because there’s a little experience playing God.”
Madam Secretary premieres 8:50 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT Sunday on CBS.
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