At ATX Festival, 'West Wing' producer, 'Good Wife' director recall real political figures on their sets
“It’s a hard time to do politics because real politics has jumped the shark,” screenwriter Kevin Falls said to laughs from the crowd at ATX on Saturday morning.
Sure enough, some of the things happening in the current political world seem like they’re right out of a soap opera, but Falls managed to create believable and engaging political drama for a number of seasons as a writer and co-executive producer on The West Wing. Falls, along with The Good Wife director Rosemary Rodriguez and SVP of Drama Development at CBS Bryan Seabury, discussed what goes into making a great political drama at the “Can We Get Back to Politics? (A Guide to Fictional America)” panel, moderated by EW editor Henry Goldblatt.
One of the panel highlights was Falls’ story about how Madeleine Albright would visit the set of The West Wing and make some creative pitches to the directors. “I think it was the first or second year because we would should occasionally in Washington,” Falls recalls, “and she approached the barricades and tried to talk to the director — at the time she was Secretary of State — and said, ‘How come you don’t do more stories about the Secretary of State?'”
Albright may have had her issues with Aaron Sorkin’s seminal presidential drama, but many of its viewers didn’t. The West Wing ran for 7 seasons, garnering two Golden Globes and 26 Emmys before finally coming to its end in 2006. Now that a decade has gone by, and with television revivals arguably more popular than ever, Goldblatt asks whether a West Wing reboot is in the works. Sadly, Falls reported the bad news to fans.
“We talked about that last night, and I’m going to break this right now: No,” Falls said. “At some point I remember [Sorkin] was entertaining it because he likes to hear that as anybody would, but I don’t know, he’s got so much going on.”
Another beloved political drama fans have had to say goodbye to more recently is The Good Wife. Although director Rosemary Rodriguez didn’t have Madeleine Albright pitching her story ideas, she did have a political powerhouse of her own who she remembers being very nervous on set. Rodriguez recalled the time political analyst and current DNC Vice Chair Donna Brazile guest starred on the CBS drama for a three-episode arc, and her superfan status might have gotten the best of her.
“Well, I guess Donna Brazile stuck out in my head,” Rodriquez said, when asked about awkward experiences in directing real politicians. “She’s so awesome and I love her, and she was a huge fan of the show — she said every Sunday her girlfriends all get together religiously. What was crazy was she was so nervous, and she would run lines with anybody who would run lines, like 6 hours before her scene, and she still couldn’t relax in the lines. But she’s awesome.”
Working with real politicians might be one thing, but for the network heads, it’s the casting of actual actors that can sometimes be troublesome, especially for those who hate spoilers. Seabury shared that finding roles for notable television actors will oftentimes ruin some major plot points for him on other shows he’s watching.
“We get surprises ruined for us all the time in my job,” Seabury said. “The head of casting will say, ‘Do we have anything for so-and-so actor,’ and you’re like, ‘But they’re on The Walking Dead, oohhh. Stop sending me these emails.'”
—Reporting by Nick Maslow