'Madam Secretary' Producers on the 'Exciting' Finale Reveal: It Was Time (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched Sunday's finale of Madam Secretary.
Is Madam Secretary about to become Madam President?
On Sunday's season four finale, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord (Tea Leoni) declared to her husband, Henry (Tim Daly), that she wanted to run for president, introducing an exciting new direction for the series ahead of season five. Hints that Elizabeth was ready to reach the next level of her political career had been dropped in recent seasons, but executive producer Lori McCreary tells ET that she didn't think they would reach this landmark moment this soon.
"When Barbara and I were first talking about what the pilot would be, we joked with [then-CBS Entertainment president] Nina Tassler that we'd do seven seasons of Madam Secretary and then we'd change the title to Madam President," McCreary tells ET. "So many people have been emailing us and tweeting about whether or not this was going to be in the works, and it seemed like the natural time for her to at least tell her husband about it. We haven't really announced this to the world of Madam Secretary. We think it's going to be a really fun to unpack what it's like to declare a candidacy, what you have to go through to get the nomination and hopefully, what it will look like if she does or doesn't finally to run."
As McCreary explains it, they began to seriously lean into the idea of exploring the inner workings of a presidential candidacy on Madam Secretary about two seasons ago. "We've teased this out a couple of times in the past season and a half, and this seemed like the perfect moment with this episode," she says, referencing the show's "hair-trigger" international crisis (a nuclear scare) between the U.S. and Russia. "It's a combination of what happened to her personally in this episode, thinking her family was not going to be around anymore, and also her realizing that it's up to people like her to keep these detentes in place."
McCreary singled out Henry's response after Elizabeth shared her desire to run for the country's highest position, explaining that the scene encapsulates his understanding of his wife's true wants. "That's one of the great things about Henry. He said, 'I know,' and she said, 'I didn't even know,'" McCreary points out. "Their relationship is a relationship we all aspire to have, and it's so beautiful that he knows her so well that he realizes even before she does not only that she might want to, but she's the perfect type of person to be the president of the United States."
Executive producer David Grae, who co-wrote the finale with showrunner Barbara Hall, called Elizabeth's declaration an "exciting" development for the character's trajectory and echoed McCreary's sentiments, saying they "had been building towards this decision for a little while."
"This is the first time that she affirmatively declares, 'You know what? I want to do this,'" Grae tells ET. "Sometimes you get a little lucky creatively ... and since we put it in the air, the audience knows that presidents have terms and secretaries of states have terms. What is the next step for this character? We knew we were going to address it in some way, shape or form soon. And this episode, once we had the big policy issue that they were dealing with after the nuclear scare, it felt like the natural time."
"I remember the moment in the writers' room when we came up with it; Wow, that's where we're going to land. It organically came out of the story," he adds. "In the early days of the show, we knew that if the show had a nice, healthy run -- and we're fortunate that it has -- we would have to address this issue eventually. And it's an exciting personal journey for Elizabeth McCord."
While the show exists in its own political universe, McCreary seemed to debunk the idea that they would be looking to former secretary of state and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's experiences as a guidebook for Elizabeth's journey. "We're in a world where what's happening right now doesn't exist, so we get to be the aspirational version of what happens in a campaign," she says, "so that's the fun for us of this -- peeling back the curtain for the audience on what it really takes to run for president. We'll see the reality of the toll it takes on families and the people around those who are running. We may have a little fun with it once she finds out what it's literally going to take to run, whether or not she's up for it."
Grae spoke of the significance of having Elizabeth begin this new adventure admist a contentious political climate. "It's certainly an interesting time. People are very interested in politics now, so we enjoy giving a civics lesson each week," Grae says, adding, "we'll start exploring what those first steps that potential candidates take. But it's not going to happen so quickly in the world of the show. Her character has declared she wants to run, but she's got some time left as secretary of state."
Creatively, Elizabeth's new political chapter opens the door creatively for story possibilities and McCreary teased that the writers will likely comment on the health of the nation's political system through a possible campaign. "We'll show, perhaps, what's right and wrong about the political process and have fun with Elizabeth and Henry discussing whether or not she wants to participate in certain things," McCreary adds, sharing that it'll also offer viewers a chance to chart a presidential campaign from its infancy.
Looking ahead to the fifth season, McCreary noted that it's still early in the planning of the episodes, as the writers' room starts back up the day after Memorial Day. But she made one promise that should make Madam Secretary fans happy. "The whole year is not going to be about the idea of her running," she says. "It will be part of the episodes that we do, but just like other episodes of Madam Secretary, it'll be infused with what's going on with the kids and what's going on internationally in the world."
As for how Elizabeth would fare as president if that day comes? "It would be a really entertaining ride," Grae hypothesizes. "It would change the show a little bit if she were the president, not that the president is the sole shot-caller because there's checks and balances. Maybe we deal more with that and we'd be able to deal with domestic issues more. If the character were to become president, it would open up the show, not that there's any need to -- we like what we're doing -- but it would create other avenues, other rich veins of story that would be exciting to explore."