Showrunner David Mandel reveals the intriguing plots that never made it out of the writers' room

By Dan Snierson
May 16, 2019 at 03:11 PM EDT
Credit: Lacey Terrell/HBO (2); Colleen Hayes/HBO; David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock; Pizzoferrato Photography/Getty Images

Veep reached the (truly) bitter end on Sunday, wrapping up a vicious tale about what happens when a self-consumed politician feels entitled to the presidency, slithers and dithers her way onto the global stage with a band of broken accomplices in tow, and leaves a tidal wave of destruction in her wicked wake.

No doubt, two-time POTUS and all-time narcissist Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) accomplished a lot in her 76 (77? 75?) years on this planet, but much of it wasn’t worthy of commemoration in her vagi-library. She didn’t only shatter the glass ceiling, she also walked through a glass door. She made galling gaffes at fundraisers and in interviews. She saved Tibet but then turned on it as well as: her daughter, Catherine (Sarah Sutherland); her most loyal assistant, Gary (Tony Hale); federal lands in Montana; and American children hoping to learn all about dinosaur theory. Many in her inner circle of dysfunction over the years weren’t exactly earning high marks, either: Dan (Reid Scott) was getting fired almost as much as he was getting laid and Mike (Matt Walsh) once invented a fake dog so he could shirk work obligations.

Of course, there are only so many conundrums, blunders, misdeeds and other misadventures that one can stuff into 65 episodes; seven seasons simply isn’t enough time to venture down every path of pathology. Now that Selina has been laid to rest, Veep showrunner David Mandel — who assumed the reins from creator Armando Iannucci after season 4 — reveals 11 intriguing story lines that never made it out of the writers’ room, including one that would have kicked off the first half of an eighth season.

  • Selina’s pet project
  • THE PITCH In season 5, Mandel and the writers began crafting a story in which Selina championed the funding of a war memorial to dogs that served in the military. (The idea was based on the Animals in War Memorial in London, which is an actual thing.) The proposed episode would feature flashbacks of Selina as a U.S. senator and VP while following her journey to see this memorial become a reality. Along the way, the canine commemoration would fall prey to the same issues that plagued the Vietnam War Memorial: debate over design, intent, representation, etc. “The whole thing was going to spin out of control with the number of animals to be represented in the memorial: Why just dogs? What about the horses and the goats that help out?” says Mandel. “But also there was something about the different statues of the animals were then attracting other animals to the memorial.”
  • WHY IT NEVER AIRED There was no overriding reason why the writers ultimately called off the, er, dogs. “It never paired up with everything the right way,” notes Mandel. “It was very funny unto itself as a silly runner, but it was never enough to be a story onto itself to build an episode around.” It was even revived as a possibility in season 6, as the writers explored how Selina would fill her time now that she was out of office. But, he says, “between the library and the unveiling of her portrait, it just never fit anywhere.”

Cyborg, meet sycophant
THE PITCH The writers set their phasers to stun in season 5 by plotting to have two of Selina’s staffers who couldn’t be more unalike — data-driven Kent (Gary Cole) and Selina-driven Gary — bond over a shared passion. That passion? They’d both be obsessed with the same sci-fi TV drama. “We thought it would be funny for these two characters to find some common ground, as they have not spent much time together on the show,” says Mandel. “We also thought it would drive Selina crazy to see the two of them making little jokes and references about the space show.“
WHY IT NEVER AIRED “Ultimately we liked the idea of the two characters together more than we liked the idea, and we moved on,” says Mandel.

Thank you for your service — and that sweater
THE PITCH A season 5 episode set at Camp David was to feature a B-plot that was inspired by a true story that happened to Matt Walsh, a.k.a. press secretary Mike, and a Veep writer. Someone in one of Selina’s military attachés would give Mike a jacket or sweater, but it would turn out to be special clothing worn by an elite military group. “When Mike wears it, people are saluting his service and giving him first-class seats on airplanes,” says Mandel.
WHY IT NEVER AIRED The episode was jam-packed as is: Mike learned that he and Wendy (Kathy Najimy) would be having twins — and then their Chinese adoption was approved. “Plus,” notes Mandel, “we already had Mike getting addicted to smoking from chewing nicotine gum.”

Gary Walsh: Fully loaded
THE PITCH In season 6, President Montez (Andrea Savage) decides to cut Selina’s security-detail budget. “In the wake of less Secret Service, Gary would have gotten a gun,” says Mandel. “That’s all we had: Gary with a gun.”
WHY IT NEVER AIRED As noted, the idea was never fleshed out. And it’s rather implausible to picture Gary packing heat to keep Selina safe. “But it still makes me laugh,” says Mandel.

  • Selina’s ghastly artwork needs… a ghostpainter
  • THE PITCH Winking at the idea of how former presidents fill their time with a new hobby — think George W. Bush and painting — the writers discussed the notion that Selina would have been drawn to the canvas in season 6. And here’s the twist: “She would have been terrible at it,” says Mandel, “so they would have had to hire a ghostpainter to fix her paintings.“
  • WHY IT NEVER AIRED Seeds of the idea blossomed in two other stories: Mike becomes the ghostwriter of her memoir and an artist who is hired to paint her official White House portrait (though she has sex with Selina’s ex-husband, Andrew, played by David Pasquesi).

Hanks isn’t Hanks — Hanks is Hughes
THE PITCH Early on in Veep, VP Selina often complained about not getting to see President Hughes, who, in a running joke, was someone we also never saw. But there was a brief plan to spot him in season 6. The inspiration for the gag came from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “When you go to the Reagan Library, you don’t see a lot of George H.W. Bush — and you sort of notice it,” says Mandel of Reagan’s VP. So, in season 6’s “Library,” Selina would task Gary with trying to find photos of her in Hughes’ Presidential Library, and in the only one that Gary finds, Selina is deep in the background, and half of her body is out of the frame. “For a couple of minutes, we entertained the notion that it would be the first time you ever saw Hughes,” says Mandel. “And I had this crazy, mad fever dream that if you ever saw Hughes it would be Tom Hanks. I always thought he would have been the perfect representation of Hughes. Having heard for six years about how horrible this guy was and everything that was wrong with him from her perspective, [there would be] this 180 of the audience going, ‘That’s the nicest guy on Earth!’ And it really would have called into question everything she had ever said about him, just by making him Tom Hanks. He was never even going to appear on camera. Still photograph only.”
WHY IT NEVER HAPPENED Mandel never pursued the idea, which turned out to be fortuitous. Why? It would have nixed the possibility of what executive producer Frank Rich later suggested as the series finale’s final joke: news of Tom Hanks’ death bumping coverage of Selina’s funeral. (That gag works without context, but it’s even better when you remember that in Veep’s first episode, after Selina stuck her foot in her mouth, Mike tried to reassure her by suggesting that bigger news might break and eclipse the whole mess: “What if Tom Hanks dies?”)

Canicide on the campaign trail
THE PITCH Earlier in season 7, you met Mayor Biscuit, dog mayor of Richard’s hometown of Lurlene, Iowa. Mayor Biscuit perished after eating chocolate from the hand of a clueless Selina. But in the original idea, Selina, forced to spend the night in Lurlene, “would have tried to sneak out to get to a bigger town with a better, cleaner hotel,” says Mandel. “Along with that, there was a story about Selina acting more folksy, so she would have driven herself into town in a pickup truck. In the middle of the night, she and Gary try to leave in the truck, and then accidentally run over the mayor. They — or rather Gary — have to bury the body in a cornfield in the middle of the night.” (And you thought the finale was dark?)
WHY IT NEVER AIRED While Mandel loved the idea of the illicit interment, the storyline felt too thematically similar to one already in place, in which Selina puts on her down-home charm during a state fair visit.

A snitch hunt in House Ryan
THE PITCH In season 7, the writers toyed with an idea that Jonah was frantically trying to figure out who on his campaign staff was leaking embarrassing information to the press. The main suspects: Teddy (Patton Oswalt) and Ericsson (Diedrich Bader). Tired of this tire fire, he turned all Tyrion to root out the spiller of secrets. “Jonah and Richard [Sam Richardson] decide to use a leak-finding method from Game of Thrones: They will tell different things to different people, and then see whichever story hits the papers,” says Mandel. “Of course, Richard and Jonah get confused over who they told what.”
WHY IT NEVER AIRED The story was ultimately beheaded and replaced by the #notme plot, “which was just better,” explains Mandel.

The Not Tamale incident
THE PITCH President and expert stair tripper Gerald Ford was responsible for another famous gaffe: once, whilst consuming a tamale, he also ate the corn husk. Selina was to do a similar thing in season 5 when she went on her first public date with Charlie Baird (John Slattery), who was to meet her daughter at “a lesbian-owned small business called Molly’s Tamales,” recalls Mandel. “Gary and the other characters were then also going to have to eat the corn husk in an attempt to normalize Selina’s behavior.” The tamale tragedy was floated again in seasons 6 and 7. In the latter season, it might have happened at the Iowa State Fair, where Selina would be roasted for the gaffe, akin to politicians like John Kasich and Bill de Blasio who were caught knife-and-forking a pizza slice in New York.
WHY IT NEVER AIRED While the plot seemingly could have worked anywhere on the road or on the campaign trail, “it just never fit anywhere” and “we just never had the room for it,” explains Mandel. “That one never died. It was like a vampire.” Alas, this one bit it.

Richard cashes in
THE PITCH What started as a joke among the writers became a potentially lucrative possibility in season 7. Working off the idea that anyone could start a digital currency, the writers imagined that Richard (holder of two doctorates) and his father (holder of the email address would create their own version of Bitcoin called… Splettcoin. “As things often are with Richard, it would have been a throwaway comment at first,” says Mandel. “He would have been like, ‘Blah blah blah, yeah, I paid with it with Splettcoin,’ and then someone would have said, ‘Splettcoin???’ And he wouldn’t have necessarily explained what it was beyond that. And then probably there would have been a callback to Splettccoin [throughout the season], or Splettcoin going through the roof. Less is more.” Given his desire to bring the Veep world into the real world (see: Selina Meyer’s autobiography A Woman First: First Woman), Mandel says that “we even thought we might try to make Splettcoin in real life so that Veep fans could buy it.”
WHY IT NEVER AIRED “We didn’t want to go to jail,” he deadpans.

The trial of Selina Meyer
THE PITCH In the show’s penultimate episode, Selina was forced to seek asylum at the Finnish Embassy in Norway after Minna (Sally Phillips) reported Selina for droning a Pakistani wedding, which killed civilians and an elephant. This plot was originally imagined as the cliffhanger for season 7, setting up the opening arc of the eighth season, had there been one. In that version, after Selina was arrested for war crimes, she would be thrown into international prison and then stand trial at the Hague. “We thought she might even be represented by Minna’s old acid-scarred lover, Nicholai (Stephen Fry),” shares Mandel. “We talked about a multi-episode trial and then an escape back to America.”
WHY IT NEVER AIRED “It felt a little stretched out, and the trial reminded me a touch of Seinfeld as well,” says Mandel, who had served as an executive producer of that series. In addition, the timing of a trial would seem to doom her candidacy, which was essential to the endgame, and more importantly, Mandel and Louis-Dreyfus agreed that ending Veep after seven seasons “just felt right.” And so Selina not only did escape that trial of the century, she got away with more horrific crimes in the finale.

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