‘Madam Secretary’ EP on the Romantic Series Finale & the McCords’ ‘Solid’ Relationship
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the series finale of Madam Secretary, “Leaving the Station.”]
What better way for Madam Secretary to go out than for President Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni) to continue to fight for what’s right, with her ever-supportive husband, Henry (Tim Daly) by her side, the return of several familiar faces, special guest stars, and a White House wedding?
“It was really important to work [family moments] into the story because one of the mission statements for the show has always been to show people in these important positions and positions of service as being people who have lives like our own, who have universal stories, and it was really nice to have all the space to let those stories play out,” executive producer Barbara Hall told TV Insider.
And as for what comes next? Yes, “Blake and Trevor will eventually get married after the longest engagement in history, Daisy goes to Hollywood and she and Matt probably end up together because they started that way,” she revealed. “And then of course there will be grandchildren and yes, I think [Elizabeth and Henry] are already naming them.”
Here, Hall discusses saying goodbye to the CBS drama.
Thank you for the McCords and one of the best, most supportive relationships perhaps ever on TV.
Barbara Hall: You’re welcome. That was the goal.
What have you enjoyed the most about Elizabeth and Henry over the years and especially in this final season?
In particular, it is exactly what you described: the challenge of showing a healthy, functional relationship, which doesn’t mean it’s without its problems, but it shows conflict resolution and all of those things and keeping romance alive in the relationship and just being able to go into depth with how that works.
This season was particularly fun because we got to explore the role of the First Gentleman and what his function would be in and around the White House. And we also get to see how that affected their relationship, which really was a depiction of how important it had been up to this point that they had built a solid foundation because there was a lot of stress going into the White House.
You only had 10 episodes with Elizabeth as president, but you managed to pack in a lot. What did you set out to do once you knew you only had a limited time to explore that? Did that have any influence on how you put her through the wringer?
It did, because we knew we had 10 episodes and we wanted to create one long arc instead of doing several episodes with different problems for her to solve. We just wanted to create a long narrative to tell about the first female president.
The main thing I wanted to do was to show the obstacles and challenges that might face the first female president, and then we just took it to the most dramatic conclusion, which is if people were uncomfortable enough with her in that role, she might face a challenge like being impeached.
The rest of the time we wanted a lot of real estate to use for personal stories and develop personal relationships and see how those played out.
As you mentioned, Henry became the First Gentleman, and we saw the role he played in the White House and conversations like the one with Senator Ross in the finale.
It was one of the biggest challenges trying to decide what that would look like and to give him a role that was important and that could only be done by the First Gentleman. We had fun showing him going around town with the K-pop star, the wife of the Korean president, and showing him using his expertise though to help work out trade issues.
Then when we had the confrontation with Senator Amy Ross, he has a breadth of knowledge on the subject. It was very interesting to hear this discussion argued from his point of view, from the husband of the first female president.
Stevie had quite the journey in these six seasons, both professionally and personally. Can you talk about how you decided to bring that all together not just with her back with Dmitri but also wanting to use the wedding guest list politically?
We wanted her to end up with Dmitri. We like that relationship and I feel like the audience really likes it, too. We started out with the goal to get them together. We thought it would be fun to have a White House wedding, but we thought it was inconsistent with the character to want [one], so we decided to create this issue around a really ambitious piece of legislation which would have a personal impact on Stevie and would make sense that she would want to go ahead and open up her wedding to help move that process along.
The staff around Elizabeth changed quite a bit, except for Blake, of course, and he, Mike B, and Russell provided so much entertainment. What did you know you wanted to do with the characters in the White House with her? Did you accomplish everything you wanted in that regard?
We did, especially in that we got to have a lot of people back. I wanted the White House staff to look slightly different because it’s a different job, and I always felt that Mike B., who would’ve been her campaign manager, therefore would’ve followed her into the White House. Then we found an organic way to bring Russell back in.
We basically just tried to find the most important positions for her in terms of the characters who would serve the president especially in the direction we were going, impeachment. That was part of the thinking. Then in the end, we were glad to be able to bring almost everyone back — some people had availability issues — to have closure for the series.
Russell has been so dedicated and in such a key role to the president all this time, first with Conrad and then with Elizabeth, but it was satisfying to see him taking a step back and it be his choice. Was your plan to show the negative effects that this kind of life can have on a relationship with him and Carol?
I really wanted the last episode to have a lot of romance to it. The romance of Stevie getting married and the romance of Elizabeth and Henry and also I just wanted to add this extra element to show the stress on marriages that can happen to people with lives of service, which is something I had wanted to explore since the beginning of the series, that these people are really dedicated to a life of service, but it does take a toll on their personal lives. I just thought it would be a great way to complete Russell’s arc, to have him choose his marriage. He has served and we got to see what he did for her and now it’s time for him to choose his wife.
You included quite a few fun moments with the wedding: the bachelor party, Blake singing, Mike B. telling his son to get them in the McCord family, that moment between Matt and Daisy, and the Thomas Aquinas joke during Henry’s toast. How much did the show and the characters need those light-hearted and emotional moments after this heavy, final season and knowing it was also going to be sad to say goodbye?
I wanted to create a lot of space this season for beauty and humor because I feel like, like I said, we had a strong arc to hang the presidential narrative on, and then I wanted to give the audience and ourselves as much as we could in terms of paying off things we’d set up, fulfilling personal relationships, having enough humor, giving them a beautiful scene with a White House wedding, and then we just went through and tried to make sure we checked all the boxes of everything we’ve ever wanted to do with the characters and that we thought the audience might enjoy.
Were there any specific moments, guest stars, or returning cast members on your list of must-haves?
We knew there was going to be a mistake really that was made at the beginning and somebody would have to resign for it. That story went to Daisy in an organic way that we thought was really satisfying for her, doing this thing in service of her boss that was really heroic in a way but also was problematic. We wanted to give people heroic stories. We wanted to bring Matt back and talk about what his life was in Hollywood, because it is parallel to a lot of people we know in politics who end up going out to L.A. We wanted to tie up his relationship a little bit with Daisy. We thought it was fun to bring Jay back into the White House as Chief of Staff to conclude that story with Russell.
Then in the final episodes, we just had such amazing guest stars for the hearing with Wentworth Miller, Spencer Garrett, and Norbert Leo Butz. We were able to bring together these heavy hitters to tell that story. And of course what a treat to have a moment between Tyne and Tim. We tried to think of as many moments like that as possible.
Having the soccer players in on an issue that is organic tracked for us. Then we felt like we were able to do some really special casting with Cicely Tyson. Next year is the actual centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment, so even though we couldn’t tell that story in our show because we’re a few years ahead in the future, we wanted to give a shout-out to what was actually happening.