Writing TV shows based in Washington has always been a challenge.
Whether it be the noble geopolitics of “Madam Secretary,” “House of Cards” mischief, the risky “Veep” or the scourge of terrorism in “Homeland,” screenwriters have always had the challenge of staying current but creative, Without crossing the line of implausibility.
But since Donald Trump became president of the United States, the drama of real life constantly threatens to surpass even the best ideas of a writer.
Showtime’s “Homeland” screenwriters are already planning next season, “and every day the picture changes,” says Alex Gansa, one of the creators and executive producers of the spy thriller starring Claire Danes. “It’s very difficult to keep up.”
“We are at an extremely unusual time,” he added, “and sometimes it feels as if nothing we dramatize in ‘Homeland’ can be as frightening as what is happening in the real world.”
Melissa James Gibson is one of the producers of “House of Cards” of Netflix, in which Kevin Spacey gives life to a ruthless president.
“It is true that we are encountering a new kind of daring in real life,” he said of the Trump era. “I think it creates a sickening impulse – ‘What are you going to do today?’ – in which we look for our drama in the president of real life, as if that were the show. ”
“I’m very jealous,” joked David Mandel, one of the makers of HBO’s political satire “Veep,” in which Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays an expletive plagued by her bootlegs. “We work very hard on our scripts. They seem to be better at this job.”
CBS’s “Madam Secretary” follows the demands facing Elizabeth McCord, the US secretary of state played by Tea Leoni, to strike a balance between work and family.
When the series began three seasons ago, “we wanted to show a government where people still valued others’ opinions and things were still being done,” said executive producer Lori McCreary. Now, with the growing political breakthrough, he sees the series more than ever as “a version to aspire … and, I hope, a needed break from all the madness in the news.”
Trying to anticipate real-life foreign relations to feed the narrative has become increasingly difficult in the Trump era, says executive producer and creator of “Madam Secretary” Barbara Hall.
“In the past, we took topical events and tried to project them into the future,” he explained. “Now, in some cases, we have to simply decide that the series IS our world. So we create our own rules.”
In the final chapter of her most recent season, Secretary McCord sought help from NATO nations to appease an international outbreak.
When Hall was writing the script a few months ago, he was well aware that NATO was a sensitive subject with Trump, who called it “obsolete” as a candidate.
“But there was no way to know where it would end,” Hall said. “We ended up doing an episode that explained the history of NATO and what it was, with our government supporting it.”
Then, by coincidence, the final broadcast in May coincided with Trump’s visit to Brussels. Even though the president had at that point changed his stance towards the organization, he caused a diplomatic flinch by berating other NATO members, and seemed to push the prime minister of Montenegro to put himself in a prominent place for a photo.
“Madam Secretary” is not the only series where the fiction and the reality were crossed in a surprising way.
In “Veep”, last month, the unfortunate exponent Selina Meyer traveled to Qatar. There, speaking at an Arab human rights conference, he succumbed to political pressure and tried to dissuade oppression from the women he planned to condemn.
On the very day that episode was broadcast, Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he praised the country’s progress in empowering women who, as more than one commenter observed, can not drive or leave home without Escort a man.
“That’s something you can not plan for,” said Veep’s scriptwriter on harmonious convergence.
“Veep” did not anticipate that Trump would arrive at the presidency. But Mandel said that a couple of years ago, the series adopted a fortuitous strategy to stay fresh: Meyer would be dismissed, and would show their post-presidential life in a humorous way.
“Homeland” did not anticipate Trump’s triumph either. The preparation of the scripts for its sixth season, which ended in April, began a year earlier with a new fictitious president in mind: a woman.