“Madam Secretary,” a drama starring Tea Leoni as a secretary of state balancing demands of her job with her responsibilities to her family, premieres at 8 p.m. tonight and will be rerun at 10 p.m. on CBS.
The series stems from a desire by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and his producing partner Lori McCreary to move into television after their production company, Revelations Entertainment, had produced such films as “Invictus,” and “Along Came a Spider.”
The two had lunch with CBS Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler, who told them they “needed to find a character whose story we wanted to tell,” McCreary said at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour.
McCreary then met with Tracy Mercer, Revelations Entertainment’s vice president of development, “trying to come up with a great character,” McCreary said.
That character was found thanks to the congressional hearings into the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, McCreary said.
“We started asking ourselves what really happens in those American embassies overseas?” McCreary said. “What’s life like for the secretary of state, especially how does that translate overseas when rights for women are not necessarily the same as they are here?
“Then the issue of balancing an incredibly heavy workload with a personal life and how do you even plan a single moment of your life… when at any minute you could be dealing with rocket attacks in Israel, a military coup in Pakistan and a border crisis with Mexico?”
Freeman coined the title, McCreary said. Coincidentally, it is also the title of the memoir of the first female secretary of state, Madeline Albright, who met with Leoni as she prepared for the role and attended the series’ premiere in Washington Thursday.
McCreary and Freeman pitched the concept to Tassler, who “loved the idea” and “introduced us to the inimitable Barbara Hall,” who would become the series’ creator and write tonight’s episode, McCreary said.
Hall said she told McCreary and Freeman, “there are two things that have to be present for me to understand this character in order to bring it to life.”
“One is that she can’t be a lifetime politician,” said Hall, who created “Joan of Arcadia,” and had been a producer of another CBS family drama “Judging Amy” and a co-executive producer of the Showtime espionage thriller “Homeland.”
Viewers “don’t understand the life of a lifetime politician,” Hall said. “So I wanted to bring her in from a real-world situation.”
Hall made Leoni’s character, Elizabeth McCord, a CIA analyst who left that position for ethical reasons, then became a University of Virginia professor.
Hall said her other request was for McCord “to have a recognizable and active home life, a successful marriage and children who are still at home.”
“One of the things that’s a challenge in trying to show strong women in positions of leadership or women in a man’s world is trying to show them going back and forth between those worlds,” Hall said.
The inter-office politics of the State Department will be “a big part” of “Madam Secretary,” Hall said.
“The theory that I had was that all inter-office politics are the same, whether it’s the State Department or working in any sort of corporation or a school or wherever people work,” Hall said.
“Inter-office politics are recognizable and that people would see those issues happening in the State Department and feel sort of comfortable in that environment.”