David Mandel really enjoys those mashup videos floating around the internet recently of the Trump administration bumbling along as the “Veep” music and ending credits come in.
But as the executive producer of “Veep,” they also make him thankful that he made the serendipitous decision to pull President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) out of the show’s fictional White House before Donald Trump stepped inside the real one.
“I laugh at it. I enjoy it, and then I thank my lucky stars,” Mandel told The Huffington Post over the phone.
“I’m not sure you want to see Trump in the White House doing stupid things and then also Selina in the White House doing stupid things,” he said. “There’s no scene of Mike McLintock that I could write doing a press conference that’s funnier than Sean Spicer apologizing about his Hitler references, you know what I mean?”
Instead, in the sixth season of HBO’s “Veep,” which returns this Sunday, Meyer and her team of bumbling fools will try and figure out how to traverse the political world as a former president of the United States ― one who, because she rose to the office through the vice presidency, never felt the pride that comes with being elected, much to her near-constant frustration.
It’s the scenario that Mandel pitched when he first sat down with Louis-Dreyfus in 2015 to discuss potentially replacing Armando Iannucci as the show’s executive producer after four seasons.
“Her goal in life is to be president of the United States,” he said. “If she wins an election and is the president of the United States, yeah, you can still have screw-ups every week and it can still be funny. Don’t get me wrong. But she’s achieved her goal. If Selina Meyer has achieved her goal, I think she’s just not as funny.”
The idea of Meyer on a “quest for redemption” interested Mandel much more. He dug into books about Harry and Bess Truman paying for their own stamps and driving on their own from the Midwest to D.C. He studied Bill Clinton’s desire to reclaim the spotlight at Obama’s second convention. The writers spoke to Anita McBride, who worked for George H.W. Bush, about what it was like to unexpectedly find yourself out of a job after a surprise election loss, and to Doug Band, who worked closely on the Clinton Foundation.
“The world of the former presidency is really rich,” he said. “Even in his later days, Richard Nixon found a certain amount of redemption, at least in foreign policy or in being invited back to the White House.”
“So there’s just a lot of room to see what can happen.”
We talked to Mandel ― who believes Meyer might be “the most misogynistic character on television” ― about where the show can go from here, and how it can survive at a time when the real world often seems more absurd than anything a comedy writer could think up.
The interview below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
So last June, you guys are starting to try to figure out what you want to do with this new season. Selina is no longer in the White House. What kind of prep or what kind of ideas did you guys start batting around?
I’ll step you back one baby step. This kind of goes back to when I first sat down in the late winter of 2015 and took the job. What I ended up pitching out to Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] and HBO was this notion that we would resolve the tie, she would lose the presidency (because I felt that’s what had to happen) and then the show would then become about her as a former president of the United States.
So we always knew we were working toward that. As we closed in on this notion of Dan Egan becoming a media person and moving into the news ― the idea of him doing sort of a Stephanopoulos and ending up on a morning show ― we started [zeroing in on] this idea of we’re going to jump ahead a year [to start this season] and the first scene will be Dan interviewing Selina on his new talk show as she tells us about what’s going on in her life.
Those were the first ― what’s the word? ― the first shreds of what this season could be. But we started reading a lot of books about former presidents, meeting with candidates, talking to staffers and just really, as we always do on “Veep,” trying to find out a lot of the real research and stuff ― then off of that stuff, starting to spin our story of what her post-presidency would be like.
So why did the idea of having her not win and enter that world excite you?
For me, the thing that she wants most in life is to win the presidency. Even though she was president of the United States, she kind of got there in a half-assed way. So her goal in life is to be president of the United States.
If she wins an election and is the president of the United States, yeah, you can still have screw-ups every week and it can still be funny. Don’t get me wrong. But she’s achieved her goal. If Selina Meyer has achieved her goal, I think she’s just not as funny. So some of that is why, in my mind, she had to lose.
When you guys prepping for it, what kind of books were you reading?
There are these just wonderful books about the post-presidency. I just read a book a couple of months ago about ― it’s this fascinating little story about how in the early 1950s, Harry Truman and Bess Truman got in their car and drove from in his home in Kansas to D.C. and then New York City to see his daughter.
In those days, there was no money for a former president. There was no money for their offices ― he paid for his own office out of his own pocket. He paid for his own stamps. There was no permanent security, no secret service. They got in a car and they drove off. They would reach these different little towns and the local police forces would lose their minds that the president had just shown up.
We’ve gone from that to President Obama. He’s putting together a billion-dollar library. He budgets for a staff, for around-the-clock secret service ― you know, everything has changed, and it’s just a fascinating world that we were really excited to jump into ― because no one had really explored it as an area.
And, Selina Meyer, former president of the United States, just sounded funny.
I know in the past, consultants have been a useful source of information [for “Veep” writers and actors]. Has that become less of a resource as you guys have got the idea of what’s going on in Washington, or have you ―
No, we’re constantly reaching out to them on specific issues and things. One of our consultants is a wonderful woman who has been on the show longer than I have named Anita McBride, who worked for both Bushes. She had her own stories but also put us in contact with other people from the [George H. W.] Bush presidency.
What people forget about that and I’m happy to remind them is Bush ― they didn’t think they were going to lose to Clinton [in 1992]. When they lost, they were shocked. Obviously, it’s not the same as only serving a year [as Selina Meyer does in “Veep”], but there were some comparisons to be made with Selina in terms of the shock of being kicked out and not being prepared for it ― in terms of some of the staff having a hard time finding new jobs because they were partially being blamed for his loss. That [tidbit] was an amazing thing that came out through the consultants.
We’re constantly inviting interesting people either to our offices for lunch to meet up with who are just giving us pieces. Last summer we had Doug Band, who was one of the key Clinton staffers who helped with the creation of the Clinton Foundation. That was something that we definitely wanted to play around with in our little Selina world.
You only have done one previous season, but does the idea of getting outside of the White House and opening up to CBS ―
Well, I definitely thought giving people some new places to go would be great for the show. To present new stories and new worlds, especially with the CBS morning show and the Dan story ― the idea of being able to add media, if you will to our quiver, was just a really fantastic thing because obviously so much of the politics and the media are tied together. So it gave us a real chance to play around in the world of those morning shows.
The other big thing is the distance really helps with the current Trump presidency. I’m not sure you want to see Trump in the White House doing stupid things and then also Selina in the White House doing stupid things, so the new locations give us perspective and distance in the sort of grand “tragedy plus time equals comedy.” Well, tragedy plus distance equals comedy, [too].
There are a lot of easy jokes to make about Washington. But in my opinion, the show is at its best when it doesn’t go for the easy joke and it goes at something [more complex], like how feminism is perceived these days.
When it comes to our our take on D.C., we sort of pride ourselves on having a very twisted take. We definitely do a lot about feminism and women’s issues, but we come at it from this really interesting perspective. Selina Meyer, in some ways, is the most misogynistic character on television. She hates women more than most men do, so it gives us a very unique angle on women’s issues.
What gets you excited about where this show can go from here?
The world of the former presidency is really rich, and I think the quest for redemption is rich. Even in his later days, Richard Nixon found a certain amount of redemption, at least in foreign policy or in being invited back to the White House, and so there’s just a lot of room to see what can happen to not just these characters, but to Selina specifically.
Even watching Bill Clinton speaking at the convention during Obama’s second convention, where Clinton kind of returned triumphantly to become the chief explainer ― it’s fascinating to see the hunger that these political animals have to be back on the stage. And that’s so true of Selina.
Before you go, I feel I am unfortunately legally required to ask you a couple Trump-related questions. For a while there was a meme about throwing the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” music on ―
And now it’s the “Veep” music. I love it. It’s weird to see. It’s funny to see.
It makes me just so glad though that we’re kind of coming at it from a different way. There’s no scene of Mike McLintock that I could write doing a press conference that’s funnier than Sean Spicer apologizing about his Hitler references, you know what I mean? So I’m so glad that this season doesn’t have Mike at the podium. I laugh at it. I enjoy it, and then I thank my lucky stars because if she had won the presidency, if she was still in the Oval, I’m just wondering if we would have had to just throw a lot of things in the garbage ― just because they would have been too close and yet seemed old and stale.
Final question: Are we ever going to get to find out if Selina Meyer is a Democrat or a Republican?
Never. That’s the one spoiler I will give away. It just doesn’t matter. For Selina Meyer, it’s not about the party ― it’s about the power. Obviously this doesn’t happen as much in modern times, I guess, other than Jared Kushner, but if Selina Meyer had to switch parties six different times to win, she’d do that.
Season 6 of “Veep” premieres on Sunday, April 16 at 10:30 p.m.