Farewell to the chief: On Sunday, Madam Secretary — which had an alternate title of Madam President in its sixth and final season because Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni) became the Commander in Chief — came to a sweet and uplifting end on CBS. Here, the drama’s creator Barbara Hall talks about why she put Elizabeth through an impeachment nightmare and how she felt about seeing stars Leoni and Tim Daly (Henry McCord) become a real-life couple.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You had a whole lot of story in these final 10 episodes.
BARBARA HALL: We really wanted to treat it like a miniseries. We wanted to accomplish as much as we could by telling the story of the first female president and to give ourselves room to do that. So we chose a long arc, which ultimately came to be the impeachment hearings. That had to do with the fact that I wanted to treat the first female president the way that I felt she might actually be treated. I didn’t want to have it be completely smooth sailing because I think that anybody who’s the first at anything is confronted with a lot of obstacles and challenges.
So you weren’t necessarily inspired by our current impeachment process?
This had nothing to do with it. It was months before the current impeachment process. This was just something I felt might happen to our first female president. Then once we got into it, we were bumping up against real-life headlines in a way that we hadn’t expected to. We also were able to show this character having the fortitude to deal with it and triumph over it. So that was an important thing to achieve.
When the drama first started, you wanted to show Elizabeth’s home life. Did you decide to focus more on the dynamic between Elizabeth and Henry because Téa and Tim had such great chemistry? Did they drive the story?
One edict that I had going into this is that I wanted to give the show a lot of room to breathe so that we could get into personal issues and family issues. We didn’t have a lot of really intense story arcs per episode. We had one long arc, and then we tried to give ourselves space to tell all these personal stories because people really do love them and we wanted to provide that. We also really got to delve into and explore what the first gentleman of the United States would look like. So that was part of the reason we wanted to focus on their relationship. We wanted to give people the image of how it can work with a female president.
You must feel particularly proud that you brought Tim and Téa together.
They are the most perfect couple, and it really is a wonderful thing to have been part of. I don’t know if I take credit for it, though!
Now that it’s over, has the Trump presidency made it easier or harder for you to make this show appealing to people, to make people want to watch this?
As always, what began to happen is that the way current events unfold these days, it just became impossible to stay ahead of it. Going forward, that would have been the challenge. But we had already put our show on a parallel track to reality, and I think maybe what we would’ve done is to just keep telling the story in our reality. What was happening in our world was a separate reality, a parallel universe. So I think it would have continued to have been challenging. But I’m very happy with what we got to do with this season and to end the series this way.
How long did you know how you were going to end the series with Elizabeth and Henry kissing on the back of the train?
Not until right before we wrote it. We knew the arc. We knew we were going to bring her right to the edge of impeachment when we first started it, and we weren’t quite sure how we were going to get her out of that predicament. Then toward the end, we came up with what I felt was a great ending to that episode. We’ve shown you the big arc and now we’re going to give you all this closure and this great room to be with the family and celebrate her success. But when we started breaking the story, we thought, what’s one little piece of fantasy legislation we could get her to do? So the ERA [Equal Rights Ammendment] came up because again, I just thought that it was something that would not be in the public discussion. But after the Virginia state legislature flipped to blue, the discussion of the ERA came back and suddenly there were signs of launching a campaign for the ERA again. So I thought that was fascinating. Anyway, we just decided to give her one more piece of fantasy legislation and the challenge would be the ratification. So we wanted to send her off on a note of success, but also send her off to continue doing her job. She’s going to continue trying to effect change in the world, which was her original goal as secretary of state.
Madam Secretary is a very particular type of adult drama that you really don’t see on broadcast television anymore. Do you fear this could be one of the last of its kind?
It’s really interesting because everything is cyclical and I feel like this will come back. This kind of thing can come back through network television, even if it takes a break. There’s an audience for it. So I’m hopeful that there always will be.
You must have had a lot of people come up to you and say, “I wish Téa was the president.”
Oh, we get that all the time. Launch a campaign! That’s what I say.
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