'We've Hit It Just Right': 'Veep' Showrunner David Mandel Says Final Season Nails Modern Politics

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David Mandel and Julia Louis-Dreyfus attend HBO's Post Emmy Awards Reception on September 17, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
David Mandel and Julia Louis-Dreyfus attend HBO's Post Emmy Awards Reception on September 17, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

David Mandel, the executive producer and showrunner of the HBO comedy “Veep,” insists that the team behind the show is not psychic.

Though he admits, it often appears that way.

The Emmy-winning show begins its seventh and final season on Sunday. The biting political satire stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, who begins the series as vice president. When the final season picks up, she's running for president for the second time.

The way things play out on “Veep” almost mirrors the reality of modern politics, Mandel tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. But he says it’s all a coincidence.

“It's sort of like a witch-like ability where we kind of end up accidentally predicting stuff that we think is insane,” Mandel says. “We try and think of something that people haven't done yet that's really crazy, and then it happens.”

The examples are abound. The episode where Selina visits the Middle East aired the same weekend President Trump visited Saudi Arabia and touched the glowing ball. A joke about the anti-vaccination movement was written over a year before the current measles outbreak.

And Trump tweeting about making daylight savings permanent? The bumbling political-aide-turned-presidential-candidate Jonah Ryan boasted a similar proposal on “Veep” long before Trump brought it up.

“It's always this thing of trying to look at something and go like, for example, if they're talking about an issue, what would be a funny issue for a terrible politician like Jonah to bring up?” Mandel says. “And so you know, a couple of years ago we had him bringing up getting rid of daylight savings. That has now come to fruition.”

Editor's note: The full interview below contains explicit language. 

Interview Highlights

On the process of writing “Veep”

“The easiest way to explain it is when we start out writing this season, we bring in a lot of different experts, so we're constantly having like visitors. So we sort of set out to do this season, the 'Shattered' book had come out recently, so Amie Parnes and [Jonathan Allen] came in. But we also brought in [former White House Counsel John Dean], and we'll bring in people from both sides of the aisle. And we want to talk to everybody. We want to talk to just campaign workers because this was a year we were going to be doing Selina in Iowa [and] Jonah in Iowa running for president. So we brought in a lot of people that just worked the day-to-day campaign stuff. So you're kind of talking to all these people and bringing stuff in, but you can't ignore obviously, what's going on in the world, just the day-to-day and in this case, the day-to-day of Trump.

“And the hard part is we're not Saturday Night Live, we're not ... one of the nightly shows, whether it's a weekly or [Last Week Tonight with John Oliver] or something. So on the one hand, you're trying to sort of take a big picture of what's going on in politics, even though we don't have much perspective on it — we're in the middle of it — but you're trying to get some height and look down and go, 'What's this all about?' And at the same time, you want to avoid anything too specific because a year from now, it may be a scaled joke.”

"We were just all so worried. And by the way, never worried about the show -- who the hell cares what happens to ‘Veep’ -- but just her."

David Mandel on Julia Louis-Dreyfus' cancer diagnosis

On making fun of the idea that politicians try to be everything for everyone

“It's a funny mix right now, which is I think ... we're at this great dividing line, which is politicians trying to be everything to everyone, and yet I think even Trump's worst enemy would have to admit that this notion that he is authentic — even if his authentic is fake — carried a lot of weight as opposed to other politicians who somehow seem less authentic. And I think when you go back and look at ... the Republican primaries last time around, it was this notion of this sort of lack of authenticity.

“And again, I'm putting authentic in quotes because it's not necessarily what he really is, but it's what people think he is. But that doomed guys like Marco Rubio and what not because they just seemed less authentic. So you know this time around now it's funny to watch this balance of people again, [saying], ‘I'm trying to say all the right stuff, but I don't want to say too much of the right stuff because then I'm not interesting.’ And that's one of the things, by the way, we grapple with, Selina grapples with in this season, which is starting out, dare I say, a little more in sort of a traditional kind of political blandness, and then trying to find something that cuts through. And that's one of the interesting parts of the season I think.”

On how Louis-Dreyfus’ cancer diagnosis impacted the show

“On an, obviously the most instant, immediate level, it was just was horrifying. It was awful. We were just all so worried. And by the way, never worried about the show — who the hell cares what happens to ‘Veep’ — but just her. I mean, speaking for myself, I talked to her seven times a day, and then all of a sudden, I'm not talking to her seven times a day. I can't explain what a hole that is in your life.

“However, I always like to say the really great thing about her cancer was … we were about a month out from shooting. This was September 2017. We were about to start shooting the new season. So ... we had sort of outlined the whole season, we'd written a couple episodes, we were working on new episodes, and we were about to start shooting the first ones. And when we shut down, I will say, it honestly gave me a chance to sort of look through everything we had, and it kind of corresponded a little bit to, I guess, what I would call the second year of Trump's presidency. So it was sort of like January, February, March of 2018. And if you can remember, and it seems like four million years ago, when he kind of hit that anniversary, he kind of ratcheted up. He sort of found another gear. And there had been like articles, you know Washington Post articles, talking about the fact that the lying, if you will, the less factual things, kind of amped up, up to like three [to] four a day, from maybe say, one a day.

"The notion of this is a show about what happens behind closed doors with politicians. Well, the closed doors are gone. [Trump’s], you know, out there tweeting."

David Mandel

"And ... things were getting a little crazier, and dare I say — and this is always a hard thing — David Mandel does not care for Donald Trump. ‘Veep,’ the show has no opinion one way or another. ‘Veep,’ the show, we never say Democrat. ... We never say which party she's in. We pull stuff from both things. So she's sometimes you know, she's on one side of the issue for abortion, she's on another side of guns, in ways and in some ways that don't even make real sense, if you think about it. But we are very nonpartisan with the show, even though I myself am partisan. And like I said before, we both bring in and we have consultants from both sides of the aisle, which again is very important to us.

“But again, trying to take politics out of it, I was sort of sitting there just going, 'I think you have to see that politics is changing. The certain rules of normalcy are going out the window,' and like I said that second year, it started to hit me over the head. Plus a lot of the stuff that we were doing on ‘Veep,’ if you think about it, the notion of this is a show about what happens behind closed doors with politicians. Well, the closed doors are gone. [Trump’s], you know, out there tweeting. The notion of, 'Oh my god. Can you imagine a really inept staff of campaign workers or people in the White House?' Yeah, put your television on. The notion of, 'Oh, he screwed up, and now he's going to get comeuppance.' Well, that seems to be gone too, and these were a lot of our bread and butter ‘Veep’ things. And so the wonderful thing about her cancer was I sort of was able to step back and go, 'How do we address not necessarily Trump specifically, but all of these changes in politics? How do we do that?' And I was able to sort of stop and ... sort of rethink things, and then basically when I brought the writers back, basically sort of the show is the same show we had laid out a year previously, except kind of went in with a paint brush and did a lot of different details and kind of, I don't know, I guess built it out a little differently.

“Obviously, had we shot the show, it would have shot, and it would have been fine, don't get me wrong. I think it would have been fine. But I think in my mind, there are things about it that I think would have seemed not dated, but like, quaint. Like you'd have laughed, but it would have, you'd been laughing because the cast is so damn funny, and there would have been funny lines. But you'd have been aware that like, 'Oh, that doesn't really happen like that anymore.' I don't know. It's hard to explain, but I just think ... I was able to just sort of kind of go, 'How do we talk about what's going on, even though we don't have like historical perspective?' And that was the hope, and I think we did it.”

On the decision to end the show after the seventh season

“Let me say this, we did not make the decision to end it lightly. We felt the time was right. We felt story wise it was right. And where we ended up with this story — I mean, assuming … World War III doesn't break out in the next month and a half — ... I think we've hit it just right. And it's going to really sort of both be really something for the audience, but also really comment on the sort of modern politics and what's going on in the world right now. So I'm very excited about it.”

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on March 27, 2019.


Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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