In the brutal worlds of D.C. politics and Hollywood, every day on the job could be your last. That’s doubly true in fake politics, and the people who make shows about them.
And when HBO renewed Veep for a fifth season -- the comedy that has earned Julia Louis-Dreyfus three consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for her role as Selina Meyer, a powerless vice president who eventually finds herself just as powerless as President of the United States -- creator Armando Iannucci fired himself.
The news, announced ahead the fourth season premiere, may have been a shock to fans, but not to the 51-year-old Oscar- and Emmy-nominated producer. “Any showrunner would look at his team and say, ‘Who’s not quite giving a hundred percent?’ I actually felt, if I carry on doing it like this, I won’t be giving a hundred percent -- so I’m fired,” he explains. “I decided to fire me from the show.”
The series films for months at a time in and around Baltimore, and the London-based Iannucci had just exhausted himself beyond creative potential. “We have had conversations with Armando for some time about the challenges of maintaining his family life in London and producing a show in the states,” HBO said in a statement, which also named David Mandel, a former executive producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm and writer for Seinfeld, as the new showrunner.
And just like that, Iannucci set himself up for early retirement -- from the show, at least. He has already lined up his next project: to write and direct a film adaptation of The Death of Stalin, a political satire depicting the Soviet dictator’s final days.
While the change of leadership comes at a critical time for the series, it couldn’t have been more perfect for Iannucci, who previously created the BBC comedy, The Thick of It, which Veep is loosely based on and only ran for four seasons. The short run is typical for British comedies, which are more likely to bow out before overstaying their welcome.
What transpires in the final 30 minutes of Sunday's episode of Veep could be seen as Iannucci’s version of a series finale. The ending is emotional but far from absolute -- which he would have found dissatisfying.
“There’s always a danger of being almost too conclusive,” he says. “Somehow you feel you have to wrap everything up and everyone has to have some final story that finishes it off. That’s why I really liked The Sopranos ending. For me, I felt like, ‘How else could it end?’ It starts feeling absolutist if you end it with a capital ‘END.’ I rather like the fact: this is going to carry on; this is their lives, and you can’t get away from that.”
Ultimately what happens next season will be left in the hands of Mandel. “When we met, I had thought where season five could go and he had thought where season five could go and we more-or-less gelled," he says, confident that Mandel is more than capable of maintaining the show’s pace and tone while adding a few surprises of his own. "They were similar thoughts. That’s a sign."
But Iannucci’s own conclusion with the series actually aired one week prior. The second-to-last episode, “Testimony,” which saw President Meyer and her staff facing rounds of committee hearings, was actually filmed out of order, on the last day of shooting.
Shot in a day, filming was an entirely unique experience to the series. Instead of allowing improvising, which has become a popular element of the show, Iannucci had the entire cast learn their scripts and started filming them immediately upon entering the room designed for their depositions. And they filmed in “real time,” only allowing characters to watch scenes that would have aired live on TV as in a real deposition. When finished, that was it, each of the actors were free to go.
“What was really nice was they just wanted to stay,” Iannucci says of the emotional last day. “So around by the monitors in the playback, as the day went on, we had more and more of the cast assembled behind me watching this courtroom drama play out. It was a nice way to end shooting the season.”
After the finale airs, Iannucci will be completely finished with Veep. He’s already back in the U.K. and by the end of the month, he’ll have completely handed over the reins to his successor.
“It’s David’s baby now,” he says.
Watch a montage of deleted Selina Meyer one-liners from Veep season three.