‘Madam Secretary’ Star and EP on How the Premiere Came About & Season 5 Changes
When Madam Secretary left off in the Season 4 finale, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord confided in her husband she’s planning to run for president.
The CBS political drama picks up right where it left off in the Season 5 premiere — Elizabeth is putting out feelers, cautiously telling each of her staff members about her potential candidacy, and still handling what her current job demands of her.
So when the White House is attacked and Elizabeth must address the nation, she calls on three former real-life political figures to guide her: Secretaries Hillary Clinton, Madeleine K. Albright, and Colin Powell.
And executive producer Lori McCreary was the one who made it all happen.
“We had an in before we even started the show because Tim Daly [who plays Henry McCord] had a great relationship with Secretary Albright. So when she came on in Season 1, it was because she liked the show and had this relationship with Tim,” McCreary tells TV Insider.
“Later on, we thought wouldn’t it be great if we had some advisors for Elizabeth — some older, wiser people. I happened to be at President Bill Clinton’s birthday party and Secretary Clinton and I were talking and she said, ‘I’d love to be on your show. Could you maybe write me in? I could be a spy!’ And I asked if she’d ever consider playing herself. When I checked back in, the answer was yes!” she adds.
About a month later, McCreary was at the 50th anniversary party for the American Film Institute in DC when she was seated at the same table as Sec. Albright, who also expressed her interest in being in the show.
Then, as fate would have it, the next morning, McCreary was having a breakfast meeting with General Powell about a potential film. “I asked him if he’d ever guest star and he said he’d think about that,” she says.
“Logistics-wise, it took about eight months to get the date, the time, the scheduling done, and for them to sign off on the subject of the script,” she continues, detailing how secret service came two hours before to check out the premises.
Erich Bergen, who plays Elizabeth’s overqualified assistant Blake, was on set for the big day and shot with the political figureheads. “It was a wild day. It was surreal. You’ve watched them on television. They’re historical figures and three of the smartest people I’ve ever met. It was fun to watch them talk about their times in office,” he admits.
“There were many conversations that day about things that weren’t in the episode. We sat and talked about the state of the country in real life. Not in a tear-down way, not in a way that was critical. It was a concern for the country. All three of them are true patriots and their concern for the country is palpable. It was interesting to talk with them about that as Americans, not as actors on a show about the government,” Bergen shares.
Elizabeth seeks their counsel, which is something that often happens in current politics, and of course, we can’t help but notice the striking similarities between Elizabeth and Clinton, who famously tried a presidential run.
This season will explore what being the head of the country could mean for Elizabeth. “In the back of her mind are the thoughts, ‘How will this be different?How will my life be different?’ in regards to her own team and her family,” McCreary teases. “We’re going to explore the pressures of running. We’re going behind the scenes of someone who’s considering running. That’s something we don’t usually get to peel the curtain back on in real life.”
Bergen adds, “We’re all expecting Elizabeth to run [for president]. And we all want her to because we all love her and are so inspired by her. I hope she wins. It’ll certainly be nice to see a female run for president on TV and have her win.”
As for his character, Blake is moving up the job ladder. “At the end of last season, she told Blake she was going to fire him because you’re overqualified and it’s time for you to spread your wings,” Bergen notes. “We are about to shoot the episode where that day has come. I think it’s a great thing but I just don’t want to lose the dynamic of who Blake is in relationship to Elizabeth. In his promotion, I hope we don’t lose his personality.”
McCreary can’t believe her first foray into scripted TV is in it’s fifth season — “I love that people have stayed with us for five seasons and are taking this ride with us. It’s a credit to the team that makes this show. I’m very thankful for it.”
Something else to celebrate? The 100th episode, which MS hits this season. “Every season I feel so grateful,” the EP gushes.
Madam Secretary, Season 5 Premiere, Sunday, October 7, 10/9c, CBS