TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. As Republicans wrap up their convention and Democrats prepare for theirs, we're going to talk about one of the most incompetent and self-serving presidents ever.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")
GARY COLE: (As Kent Davison) Ma'am, last night, I ran a flash poll on presidential scholars. They have rated you the 43rd most effective president ever.
MATT WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) Out of how many?
COLE: (As Kent Davison) Forty-four. You were right ahead of James Buchanan, who many feel caused the Civil War.
GROSS: That's a scene from "Veep," the HBO comedy series satirizing presidential politics. Last week, it was nominated for 17 Emmys, including best comedy series. Three of those are from my guest, "Veep's" showrunner David Mandel, who's nominated as a writer, director and executive producer of the show.
Season five, which recently wrapped up, was his first season running "Veep." He took over from the show's creator, the British writer and director Armando Iannucci. Mandel formerly wrote for "Saturday Night Live," "Seinfeld," and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
"Veep" stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, who began the series as vice president. But in season four, the president resigned and Meyer took over. Hoping to stay in the role she inherited, she ran for president in the next election. Season four ended in an Electoral College tie.
Season five focused on the behind-the-scenes calculations and backstabbing as Meyer and her staff tried to win a recount in Nevada and a congressional vote to break the Electoral College tie. There's a moment where it seems that, as a result of arcane rules, her vice president, Tom James, may be named president. And although he's become Meyer's rival, she'd want the job in his administration. Tom James is played by Hugh Laurie.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) So Tom, let's be real. You're going to be an accidental president.
HUGH LAURIE: (As Tom James) Pot, kettle.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I'm here to offer my help in making this transition of power as smooth as possible by joining your administration.
LAURIE: (As Tom James) Well, strangely enough, I was thinking along the same lines.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) OK, fantastic. I'll tell you what I want. I want secretary of state because I think that's the least you can do.
LAURIE: (As Tom James) I was thinking vice president.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) That's literally the least you can do. And I really want secretary of state.
LAURIE: (As Hugh Laurie) Vice president.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Come on. Secretary of state.
LAURIE: (As Tom James) Vice President Meyer's got a nice, familiar ring to it.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, it doesn't.
LAURIE: (As Tom James) Vice president - take it or leave it.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I would be your veep if there were a grassy knoll full of Jodie Foster fans in the front row at your inauguration.
GROSS: That's a clip from "Veep." David Mandel, welcome to FRESH AIR. Congratulations on the show's 17 Emmy nominations and your three. And...
DAVID MANDEL: Thank you very much. And congratulations on finding a clip from "Veep" that you can actually play on the air legally...
GROSS: Oh, I know.
MANDEL: ...Without getting fined by the FCC (laughter).
GROSS: There is so much cursing. There's so much incredibly creative cursing and insulting on your show (laughter).
MANDEL: We try. We try (laughter).
GROSS: So, you know, we chose this clip to play in part because it's funny but also because Donald Trump named his vice presidential pick last week. And soon we'll know Hillary Clinton's choice. So do you think vice presidential candidates and vice presidents consider that to be a really bad job?
MANDEL: I don't think anybody loves the job. I really - I think you - there's a long history of people really, really not liking the job. And I think even when they think they like the job - like, I bet there were a couple of years in there where Al Gore was sort of thinking to himself, this is a pretty good job. You know, I - we're getting along great. This guy lets me do a lot of stuff.
And then one day, it was like oh, God, Monica Lewinsky. Oh, God, now I'm running. Oh, God, now - and sort of starts to re-evaluate what he thought he liked about it. Biden, maybe, seems like he likes the job. Biden had a pretty good eight years, I feel like. So maybe Biden likes the job. But I think, overall, most people - it's a thankless, thankless task.
GROSS: Dick Cheney seemed to have a lot of power in the job.
MANDEL: Yeah, but he didn't seem happy. Or maybe that's just him. I don't know.
GROSS: Maybe he never seems happy.
MANDEL: I don't know. Maybe that was smiling for him, and it was just really creepy. I don't know.
GROSS: So are you watching the Republican convention?
MANDEL: My jaw hurts. My mouth has been sort of agape for so many hours in a row. I watched Monday night. I watched the Malania (ph) speech - or Melania, however she pronounces it - and then, obviously, the following morning, the insane fallout from the plagiarism. And it's just amazing. And it's somewhat unique, I guess, to both Trump, but also very, you know, Republican Party of just sort of - just getting caught in an insane lie. And instead of just admitting it and just moving on, it's some of the best television I've seen on, like, a regular network in a long time.
MANDEL: So, you know, I'm very excited.
GROSS: Now, is that something you feel you could have written for "Veep"?
MANDEL: You know, we sort of have an in-house joke a little bit that, like - we - that some of the stuff like this, we would sort of classify - first of all, I think, if we wrote it, I think there are definitely - like, alarms would go off. Like, it's too silly. It's too big. It's not real. Dare I say, even, we would start to wonder that as incompetent as Selina's people are that some of this is too stupid.
Like, her speechwriter Matt Walsh, who plays Mike McLintock - Mike McClintock, you know, is a burnt out, incompetent communications director and speechwriter. Even he wouldn't plagiarize a speech. And if he did plagiarize a speech, he would at least have plagiarized it from another Republican first lady, not from the enemy, Michelle Obama. I mean, I keep - you know, I keep waiting for them to plagiarize from a Hillary Clinton speech. It's madness, much in the way they botched his entire vice presidential pick.
I mean, if we wrote on, you know, "Veep" that she picked somebody and then wants out of it the way he did with this Pence guy - it's crazy. If we wrote that we would have her and her new vice president sitting in gold chairs being interviewed, you'd laugh. Like - what? - no one would do that.
GROSS: OK. It's clear to me you have some strong political views.
MANDEL: (Laughter) I do, indeed.
GROSS: And I will say on "Veep," we don't know what anybody's party is. We don't really know what their actual politics are. It's a...
MANDEL: No. I mean, I do...
GROSS: In a way, it's a very apolitical political show that's more about, like, the behind-the-scenes theater of politics than it is of politics itself.
MANDEL: We pride ourselves - I mean, I think a lot of us are very political. You know, I think it's part of our desire to be political that has us having sort of an interest in the world, which is why we do the show. But we do pride ourselves in kind of removing it from the show. We're kind of equal opportunity offenders. You don't know what party she's a part of.
And my experience, sort of, in D.C. has always been, sort of, funnily enough, that when you're with Republicans, they assume because she's kind of a screw-up that she's a Democrat. And they're like - oh, that's the other guys. And when you're with Democrats, they're like - that's them.
GROSS: So when you took over as the showrunner of season 5, the season that just ended, there was a crazy cliffhanger from season four, which I can't even begin to explain. So I'm going to ask you. I'm going to throw the ball to you (laughter)...
MANDEL: Basically, yeah.
GROSS: ...And ask you about the political cliffhanger.
MANDEL: Season four, which was kind of part of the reason I took the job, by the way - and I'll loop back that in a second. But basically, Armando and his team ended the season with Selina running for president against the opposite party by a candidate - a senator by the name of Bill O'Brien. And so it was her and her vice presidential nominee, Tom James, versus O'Brien and his vice presidential nominee Montez.
And basically, it ended in a - I guess - what's the word? - statistically possible, but never happened since the 1800s, an Electoral College tie, which basically meant that the election would be decided by the House of Representatives, the sort of wonderful corner that Armando kind of wrote the show into. And so when I first sat down with Julia and HBO and they sort of told me about it and then showed me the scripts and then ultimately showed me the episode, it was sort of this wonderful place because it was sort of - you had no choice but to think of a good idea how to get out of this corner.
It sort of - you know, it wasn't just sort of like - OK, so I'm taking over and I've got to just do a regular episode. It was sort of like, oh, no, no, no. I'm taking over and I have to figure out what happens. And how do we get out of this? And will she be president? And what's going to happen to her? And so for me creatively, it was sort of, you know, it's pretty good to be asked to come in and take over "Veep." That's pretty good on any day. But then sort of this puzzle was sort of the added lure, at least to me. So I was very excited about it.
GROSS: So let's hear how the scene actually sounded when it played out on TV. And this is Selina Meyer's staff trying to figure out what happens if the election ends in a tie in the electoral vote, as it looks like it's about to do. So they all go onto Google, basically, to see what they're supposed to do. Like, what happens next, what the protocol is.
So here's the scene from "Veep."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")
KEVIN DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) It's the 12th Amendment
ANNA CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) I have 20th Amendment.
TONY HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Why are there so many amendments? Get it right the first time, people.
WALSH: (As Mike McLintock) It's actually both. Twelfth is superseded by the 20th. They give the House until January 20 to elect the president.
SUFE BRADSHAW: (As Sue Wilson) Each state gets one vote. First candidate to 26 is the new president, and the Senate chooses the V.P.
COLE: (As Kent Davison) Well, it's a close election with a ton of House races too close to call. What happens if it's a tie in the House?
CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) Right.
COLE: (As Kent Davison) Is it a dance-off?
BRADSHAW: (As Sue Wilson) Well, vice president-elect becomes president. Whoever the Senate has picked for VP will be president.
DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Wait, that means...
CHLUMSKY: (As Amy Brookheimer) That Tom...
LAURIE: (As Tom James) What?
CHLUMSKY: (As character) ...Could be the president.
LAURIE: (As Tom James) I had literally no idea. I mean, it's good to be prepared.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Wait. So you mean that I would - I might lose this election to my [expletive] vice president?
GROSS: So we were talking about how you inherited this crazy cliffhanger of an ending. How did you and the writers decide on what the arc of this season was going to be?
MANDEL: Very initially, I guess the easiest way of putting it is I had decided for myself that she needed to lose the election. I felt that the thing that Selina Meyer wants most on all the world is to be elected president of the United States. She was president for a year, but she was not elected. So that was the thing that meant the most to her.
And I sort of felt like the character would be ruined if the character got what she wanted, that even though, yes, she would still be petty and occasionally incompetent and all of those things, she would have achieved it. And if she was elected president of the United States, then what are the stakes because, yeah, you can go, oh, well, now she's got to get elected for a second term.
But she really doesn't. She was elected president of the United States, she won. So I kind of made the decision myself that I would have her lose the election. So that was a big decision. And then I started to figure out, well, who should she lose to? And the obvious answer initially was, you know, to Tom James. She should be her vice president's, you know, vice president.
That's the most insulting thing and this man who, you know, she sort of had this sort of interesting past with. But as I thought about it more, I kind of came to kind of love and I think Julia, as an actress, responds to the more we can kind of dump on her.
And I started to think to myself that even worse than losing to your own vice president would be losing to another woman so that another woman would become the first-elected president of the United States, even though elected in this crazy situation. Ultimately, history will forget how this all happened, and she, Montez, would be the - you know, whatever - serve at least one full term, which Selina never did.
And once I kind of locked in on the idea that that was the worst thing that could happen to Selina, I kind of knew where I was going. And then the rest of it was just sort of filling in the journey. So that's how I like to work.
GROSS: Let's take a break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is David Mandel. He's the showrunner of HBO's "Veep." And the show's nominated for 17 Emmys. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is David Mandel. He's the showrunner for the HBO series "Veep," which stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president turned president. And now she's out of office. And who knows what's next for her? "Veep" is now nominated for 17 Emmys. Three of those Emmys are for David Mandel for writing, directing and being an executive producer of the show.
So another development this season is that Selina Meyer, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus character, her daughter Catherine decided she's going to do a backseat - behind the scenes documentary.
GROSS: Now, the mother and daughter do not get along well. Catherine is always, like, asking her mother for help or asking for a question. And Selina, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus character, is always like, can't you see how busy I am? You know, I have to negotiate a peace treaty or, you know, I have the secretary of state on the phone. I can't talk with you.
And so she's always getting pushed back. And she decides, finally, she's going to make a documentary because everybody is so used to ignoring her all the time. 'Cause the staff ignores her too, no one seems to notice that she's running a camera most of the time. And finally, in the next to last episode, we get to see the documentary that she's made. You directed that episode.
So you basically directed her documentary.
MANDEL: Yes, I am Catherine (laughter).
GROSS: Yeah, so tell us a little bit about what you were thinking when you made that, like, some of your process.
MANDEL: Well, it was really a - it was an idea that as it sort of came together, I loved from the beginning. It was the notion of right in the first episode, we were going to set up this idea that Catherine is making this film, you know? It had been established previously that she had been sort of a film and dance major. We'd sort of heard little bits and pieces.
And, you know, Catherine isn't an innocent. I think, you know, Catherine is her mother's daughter. And in some ways - what's the word I'm looking for? You know...
GROSS: Passive aggressive?
MANDEL: Yeah, passive aggressive is an excellent word. And, you know, with this notion of I'm going to make a movie about this tie, I think there's a rich history of sort of the children of very powerful people deciding that by dint of being in some situation that they were, for lack of a better word, born into, that they are the perfect person to therefore make a documentary about it.
But we - I had this sort of idea. And Erik Kenward was the writer of the episode. And we kind of had this idea that if we could pull this off, the notion that our sort of ninth episode would really be her film, and it would be completely her film and that it would start with sort of stereotypical documentary beauty shots of D.C. with ambient nature sounds into the gavel banging, into the revelation that we could tell you the results of this Congressional House, very important thing, buried in this overly sort of super-serious Catherine documentary.
And it was really fun. And it was really fun because first of all, we were able to sit and talk with the characters. And we kind of got to dig a little deeper, see little aspects of their lives. That's something that "Veep" hasn't done a lot of. And that was something that was very important to me.
And it also allowed us to kind of go back to scenes that you might remember from the season and kind of show you moments from before them, after them, things you didn't know that were happening. And really that if you watched this sort of ninth episode and watched Catherine's film, you could almost go back and watch the first eight episodes again and gain, perhaps, new appreciation for certain aspects of it.
And that was just - this overall concept was something I just - I loved.
GROSS: I mean, 'cause Catherine's mother, the president, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus character...
GROSS: ...Is so used to, like, thinking she can control her daughter. She's always saying to the daughter as the camera's rolling, don't use what I just said or turn it off now. And, of course, Catherine isn't obeying her. And so in the documentary...
MANDEL: No, there's definitely...
GROSS: ...We see all these scenes of the president saying, edit that out. Turn off the camera. And the camera's just running.
MANDEL: There were definitely moments where, you know, again, we sort of, you know, in the writing room, sort of was like, could this happen? Would this happen? Would they - you know, could this go on like this? And I was very pleased to see the Anthony Weiner documentary. And there were a couple of scenes that seemed almost out of our Catherine documentary of, like, everyone clear the room and, like, the camera being on and being forgotten about it and whatnot.
And it just felt like, yeah, this could happen in a really great way.
GROSS: So the vice president turned president, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, not only doesn't get along with her daughter, she never got along with her mother. And in this past season, her mother was gravely ill on life support. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus was called to the bedside to decide whether they should take her off life support or what they should do.
And she's kind of torn up about it and, you know, tormented about what the right choice is. But really, she's thinking about the recount that's going on and what's going to happen with the presidential election 'cause her ability to stay as president hangs in the balance. And so as she is worried about her mother being gravely ill and what's happening with the recount, her aide, played by Gary Cole, his name in the series is Kent Davison, takes her aside for a private talk.
Let's play that scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP")
COLE: (As Kent Davison) I don't know if this provides any solace, but ever since your mother's health setback was announced, there has been an outpouring of support. It has driven up your favor polls.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) I'm talking about pulling the plug on my mother here. How's a half a percentage point in the polls supposed to sweeten that [expletive] biscuit?
COLE: (As Kent Davison) More like double digits.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Really?
COLE: (As Kent Davison) Uh-huh.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) But just out of curiosity, if I were to, you know - would that end?
COLE: (As Kent Davison) There is a possibility of a shorter-lived but numerically greater outpouring - if you will, a death bump.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Really?
COLE: (As Kent Davison) Really.
GROSS: Was it your idea to come up with the expression a death bump?
MANDEL: I believe that was the writers. Death bump was their terminology. But I'll take a little credit in the sense of this was something I definitely wanted to do this season, which was dig into who these people were a little bit, that this very personal thing with this mother who she's not sort of close to would come up and that she would be very much not caring and yet caring.
GROSS: So obviously, the idea of behind the scenes political documentary played into this season of "Veep." Do you watch many reality shows? And I'm wondering if you ever watched any of the Palin reality shows or any of the Trump reality shows 'cause that coming together of politics and reality shows is so rich.
MANDEL: No, you know, Al Franken, who I mentioned earlier, years before he was ever a senator, you know, used to talk a lot about that the line between politics and entertainment - I want to do a job quoting him - was, like, either something as thin as the septum in David Crosby's nose from doing all that cocaine...
MANDEL: ...Or something along those lines. I'm doing a bad job - that, you know, that line was blurring. And I definitely, you know, I check out reality shows to see them. I don't enjoy the reality reality, the quote, unquote, "reality shows." I like some of the competition shows.
GROSS: My guest is David Mandel, the showrunner of "Veep," the HBO comedy series satirizing presidential politics. We'll talk more after a break. And we'll remember Garry Marshall, who died yesterday. He created or co-created the sitcoms "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy" and directed the film "Pretty Woman." We'll listen back to a 1991 interview with him.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with David Mandel, the showrunner for the HBO comedy series "Veep," which satirizes presidential politics. Last week, the show received 17 Emmy nominations, including best comedy series. Three of those nominations are for David Mandel in his roles as a writer, director and executive producer of "Veep." He took over the show in season 5, the latest season, after the show's creator, Armando Iannucci, departed.
So in "Veep," there's a character named Jonah, who's not very bright, who's been an aide. But this season, this past season, he runs for Congress and makes one gaffe after another. And he's using without permission the Tom Petty song "I Won't Back Down" as...
GROSS: ...His campaign theme.
MANDEL: And then Tom Petty gets in touch, saying, I didn't authorize this. I do not want to be associated with your campaign. You cannot use my song.
MANDEL: I had actually...
MANDEL: I was just going to say, they had a number of cease and desists, including a couple of preemptive notes from other artists saying in case...
MANDEL: ...You're thinking of...
MANDEL: ...Using our music, don't use our music.
GROSS: I love that because that happens so much now that a candidate will, you know, appropriate a piece of music, and then the artist who made it will go, like, no you don't. I hate your campaign and everything you stand for (laughter).
MANDEL: You know, we did a line with Selina where - when she was in her mother's hospital room, and she's hearing this Tim McGraw song that is Meemaw - that's her mother's - favorite song. And she's hearing it, and she sort of says something along the lines of, the election's over. I don't have to pretend to like country music anymore. You know, sometimes with these campaign songs, I just wish they would play a song they actually listen to and like, do you know what I mean?
MANDEL: I feel like, you know, just this notion of - you know, I'm sure Chris Christie does love Bruce Springsteen. And I love that Bruce Springsteen would never let him use any of the music. But you do get the sense that - you know, Trump comes out to these various sort of, like, working-man songs. This is not the music he has playing in his office, do you know what I mean?
GROSS: How do you know that - because he is from...
MANDEL: I don't know.
GROSS: He is from Jersey.
MANDEL: I don't it. You're right. I know that. But I just don't get the sense there's a lot of Springsteen or whatever playing in his office.
GROSS: Did you hear Monday night...
MANDEL: By the way, I would also point out we actually had to ask Tom Petty if it was OK that we use the song for Jonah, you know, version of the - you know, the world sort of meeting - reality meeting fiction.
GROSS: Did you notice that Monday night at the Republican convention - and I forget whether this is before or after Melania spoke - they played Queen's recording "We Are The Champions?"
MANDEL: Yes, exactly. And I'm sure no one's happy about that in the Queen camp. That's my guess. And also, by the way, that song - I know "We Are The Champions" is a champion song. But it's also - at this point, it's been used so ironically and I feel like so many comedies as well, like in situations where, like, you're not the champion that it just sort of seems like - again, is someone being convinced you're a champion because you're playing "We Are The Champions?" If that's the case, then I think we're in - our country is in a lot of trouble, so I don't know.
GROSS: So you started your TV writing career on "Seinfeld."
MANDEL: Actually, my first job, oddly enough, out of college was at Comedy Central, when Al Franken in 1992 hosted comedy coverage of the Democratic and Republican convention. It was called "InDecision 92." So that was my actually first, like, gig, like real job job. And then from there, at the end of that sea - at the end of that summer, after we'd covered the two conventions, which was really fun, we - Al put in a word for me at "Saturday Night Live." So really I guess my first, like, year-long long job was - I was at "Saturday Night Live" for three years and then moved to "Seinfeld."
GROSS: So doing a comic take on the Republican and Democratic convention sounds like great training for doing "Veep."
MANDEL: Yes, no, it was amazing training. And by the way, you know, also "Saturday Night Live," you know, one of the things - and, you know, I was a lifelong fan of the show. But then working at "Saturday Night Live" and working with Al Franken, you know, some of my favorite stuff that we ever got to do was the political stuff.
You know, back in - I guess it would have been '93, right after - right before the inauguration, Al and I wrote a sketch that still puts a smile on my face, which was Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton. Remember when Clinton was jogging everywhere in D.C. before the inauguration? And he kind of ran into - it was him, Clinton into McDonald's and then explaining the Somalia situation by eating food off people's plates and explaining the warlords and stuff? So doing the political stuff was just a blast and a half on "Saturday Night Live."
And, you know, it's different because it was a little bit more timely, a little bit more parody. Obviously, you're doing the real-life characters. But, yeah, all amazing training for this "Veep" thing that I didn't know was coming in some ways.
GROSS: So having worked with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "Seinfeld" and now working with her on "Veep," do you see...
MANDEL: And "Curb," by the way. She...
GROSS: Oh, and "Curb," right, yeah.
MANDEL: Remember - that's right. We did the season of the "Seinfeld" reunion reunion on "Curb." So that was fun, too.
GROSS: Right. But watching her play a really different character than Elaine on "Seinfeld..."
GROSS: ...Do you see things that she's capable of that you wouldn't even necessarily have known about from "Seinfeld?"
MANDEL: She was brilliant as Elaine on "Seinfeld." I mean, there's just no question about it. And I always sort of say, she just sort of ruined actresses for me. My partners Jeff, Alec and I, even when we were sort of making our little "EuroTrip" teen comedy, there were moments when we would talk to, you know, one of our actresses on there, and we would basically steal, like, one of Julia's moves and sort of teach it to them. Like, do it like this because that's how Julia Louis-Dreyfus would do it.
I think the Elaine character was obviously brilliant and threw her into a lot of funny situations. I don't know if it necessarily sort of stretched her, and that's OK. It wasn't - you know, it wasn't specifically that kind of a role.
I think the fun of - with Selina perhaps a little more is that, you know, just, like, we can stretch her into these sort of new depths of behavior, how horrible can she be, where is that line, what would she do, how embarrassed can we get her - that we kind of - we relish in. I mean, it's sort of - you know, half the - you know, it's like what's the reason to kill, you know, Selina's mother? Well, it's to see how Julia will react to that, do you know what I mean?
So the scene, for example, in that episode where she actually does ultimately pull the plug and her mother has - dies in front of her, and then she gets the news that she - they won a hearing in Nevada, so the vote count's going to go ahead. And she has a chance now to win Nevada, where she gets really excited by the news. And then her daughter comes in, and she has to tell her daughter, your grandmother's dead, but also good news from Nevada. The - I could watch Julia do that on a loop 24 hours a day for the rest of my life. It was so - I don't know what I thought it would be in my head, but it was just so much more than that.
And it's so uncomfortable and oddly sad and yet hilarious areas all at the same time. And there's just nobody on Earth that can do all of that at once. And she just - she just wows me regularly and, by the way, just inspires me as a writer because then I start to think, like, well, what next? And then, you know, what can I do to her next, in a good way?
GROSS: David Mandel, thank you so much.
MANDEL: Oh, thank you so much, really fun.
GROSS: David Mandel is the showrunner of HBO's "Veep," which received 17 Emmy nominations last week, including Best Comedy Series. Here's that Julia Louis-Dreyfus scene he loves so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "VEEP," CARDIAC MONITOR FLATLINING)
SARAYU BLUE: (As Dr. Mirpuri) She's gone, Madam President. My condolences.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Can I just have a moment?
BLUE: (As Dr. Mirpuri) Yes, of course, absolutely.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Well, why don't you check your phones? Sounds you shoplifted a bunch of vibrators.
COLE: (As Kent Davison) The Nevada state Supreme Court issued a temporary stay of certification. The count will continue.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer, laughing) My plan worked, right?
HALE: (As Gary Walsh) Maybe, maybe.
DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) Wow. What a relief.
COLE: (As Kent Davison) You wanted help from above. Here it is.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Yeah.
DUNN: (As Ben Cafferty) What a relief.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) That's fantastic (laughter).
SARAH SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Mom, what's going on? What's everyone cheering about? Is Meemaw better?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Catherine, I thought you were here.
SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) No, I went to get coffee. I asked you if you wanted anything.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) No, I didn't hear you say that.
SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Wait, she's gone? You pulled the plug without me?
HALE: (As Gary Walsh) It wasn't a plug. It was a ventilator tube that they just - ooh.
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) Oh, darling. Oh, honey, no, no, no, no, Meemaw didn't know you weren't here, honey. She's brain dead. Baby doll, she was brain dead. We got good news about Nevada (laughter).
SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Wait, what?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer) We've got good news from Nevada (laughter).
SUTHERLAND: (As Catherine Meyer) Mom?
LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Selina Meyer, laughing).
HALE: (As Gary Walsh) I'm going to step outside, OK?
GROSS: After we take a short break, we're going to listen back to an interview with Garry Marshall, who died yesterday. He created "Happy Days," co-created "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy" and directed the film "Pretty Woman." This is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. We're going to listen back to an interview with Garry Marshall, who died yesterday at the age of 81 after a series of strokes. In the 1970s and '80s, he created or co-created several really popular sitcoms, including "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," "Joanie Loves Chachi," "The Odd Couple" and "Mork & Mindy." Scott Baio, who was in two of those shows, just spoke at the Republican convention.
Two of Marshall's shows, "Happy Days" and the spin-off "Laverne & Shirley," featured his sister Penny Marshall. Garry Marshall also directed the film "Pretty Woman." He learned about writing for TV in the 1960s when he worked on shows like Danny Thomas' "Make Room For Daddy," Lucille Ball's "The Lucy Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." I spoke with Marshall in 1991 after he directed the film "Frankie And Johnny" starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: How did you get into show business? You started off as a standup comic, right, doing your own material.
GARRY MARSHALL: Yes. That's why my ires always come comedic in a way because - can I just say something? See, I sound like such a smooth talker. It's the way this public radio sounds. It's very calming. I tried to do it in "Frankie and Johnny" with the the announcer at the end. He talks like this. A lot of radio, they talk like this. How are you? (Unintelligible) This is very smooth. I like this...
MARSHALL: I'm just so calm. It's like you should do this for stress. You could just come here and talk and you'll go around like this. But, yes, I started as a journalist actually. I graduated from Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and with my degree discovered, once out in the real world, I wasn't very good at it. And I wasn't really that good at being a musician. And then I tried being a standup. I was an actor. I was a photographer. I tried everything. Nothing was particularly working for me, but then, as a musician, I wrote jokes for comics. And they started to buy my jokes, and that's where I thought maybe that might work.
GROSS: And that did pretty good.
MARSHALL: Well, yeah, I always remember writing a page of jokes for a comedian and handing it to him backstage at a club and he read it and then took his cigarette lighter and lit the page on...
MARSHALL: ...Actually lit it on fire and let it float into the wastebasket. A flaming rejection, I chalked it up to, and I must, you know, be very serious. I went home and cried a little bit, but, you know, when you want something or you have a passion for it, I guess I talked myself into the fact that I thought he might have smiled just a little bit by reading it before he set it on fire, so maybe something good was there. But after a while, everybody threw my jokes away, but then they - I heard them on the television, so I knew they were stealing them, so I figured I had a shot.
GROSS: So you had to learn how to write for a different kind of comics, comics who were, by the way, of an older generation than you were. Can you think of, like, what was a good Joey Bishop joke?
MARSHALL: For Joey Bishop, always was kind of the lost soul, so I did a traffic joke. So I drove from - the traffic was so heavy that I drove from New York to Long Island in neutral. You know, old jokes of that sort. Like there's nothing startling, but I just was consistent.
GROSS: Now, how did writing for other people lead to sitcoms?
MARSHALL: Well, people always say, well, how do you get through show business? How do you swim the waters? And how do you survive and all that? I had a very solid method, and that is team up with ambitious partners.
MARSHALL: It works for me. I was never ambitious. I just wanted to have quiet, calm, listen to public radio and say, hello, how are you? Sit down, rest. But I had an early partner named Fred Freeman, a wonderful writer who I met at Northwestern. And I thought we were doing very well with "Jack Paar," and he said, no, we got to go to Hollywood. We got to write sitcom. It's the coming thing.
And I really wasn't too interested in writing "Father Knows Best" and "Ozzie And Harriet." I thought they were pleasant enough, but it wasn't really what I wanted to do. And then this new show came on called "Bilko" - "Sgt. Bilko." And I said, oh, my, this is what I want to do. This is funny. And so he convinced me - Fred Freeman - to go to Hollywood and we went to Hollywood to write sitcoms. Joey Bishop actually paid my way to Hollywood.
GROSS: Did you write for "Bilko?"
MARSHALL: No, never got to write for "Bilko," but that was what was to me the standard to aim for, and so I wrote for Dick, Danny Thomas, Joey Bishop. The old "Dick Van Dyke Show" was a great education for me. I wrote three years for Lucille Ball. She taught me everything I know about physical comedy, which I went on to teach Laverne and Shirley and even Michelle Pfeiffer and Kate Nelligan in something areas. You learn from them.
My partner after Fred Freeman was Jerry Belson. And Jerry Belson, after I was doing so well writing situation comedy, said, this is not good enough. We got to create our own shows. I said, but we're very happy doing this. No, no, no, you got to get your own show. So he made me - and he and I created our own shows. And we actually - everything we created failed. "Hey, Landlord" was our first show - 99th in the ratings. But imagine this - it's a great reflection on the years. "Hey, Landlord" truly was 99th in the ratings, yet we stayed on an entire year. You know how fast a show goes to...
GROSS: Two weeks.
MARSHALL: If it's not in the top 40, it's gone. We were 99th. We stayed. But then I went on. The first show was "The Odd Couple," which Jerry Belson insisted we adapt. And we did, and it was a great experience.
GROSS: You said you learned everything you know about physical comedy from writing for Lucille Ball...
GROSS: ...And that you passed on some of that to Michelle Pfeiffer. Is there an example that you could tell us?
MARSHALL: Well, I first - my sister Penny and Cindy on "Laverne & Shirley." No - but some of the stuff - in "Frankie And Johnny," there's a scene where they - a customer's very rude to the waitress. And we asked waitresses what happens when people are rude you. What do you do and this and that? And there's a whole physical bit they do together with this guy. You got - you got to go to see "Frankie And Johnny" to see this. But it's stuff like that.
And that - I learned how to do it from Lucy, how to time it, how to be in the right spot with the camera, that you never do a physical joke that in any way would harm another person. For instance, if in this particular case, they spilled ice water on this customer. Now, the original thought would always be when people came up and they said, no, hot coffee. I said, no, no, hot coffee is not funny.
MARSHALL: Hot coffee will hurt him. And then I very carefully cast an actor in the part of the one the waitress was attacking that would not get sympathy for the audience. You can't have an actor where the audience says, aw, that poor, sweet guy. You got to get somebody who's, like, nondescript in a way or just somebody that looks a little like they should get it. So this is all I learned actually learn from Lucy.
GROSS: We're listening back to an interview with writer and director Garry Marshall. He died yesterday at the age of 81. We'll hear more after break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Garry Marshall, the creator or co-creator of the sitcoms "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley" and "Mork & Mindy" and the director of the film "Pretty Woman." Early in his career, he wrote for "The Danny Thomas Show," "The Lucy Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Marshall died yesterday at the age of 81. Let's get back to my 1991 interview with him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
GROSS: Now, in writing for "The Dick Van Dyke Show," was it fun to write for a character who basically did what you used to do? 'Cause Dick Van Dyke used to write - I mean, the character used to be the head writer for, you know, a guy who did a variety show.
MARSHALL: Well, yeah, I used to - it was about my days when I wrote - I wrote variety shows beside "Jack Paar." We did "The Danny Thomas Special." There wasn't a lot of specials. And it was fun to write, but the - really the way writers write on the old "Dick Van Dyke Show," the way we portrayed them is not how we really do it (laughter). But it was good for the - that was a better thing for the - more interesting for the public to see.
What we really do is we sit around the room and old Carl Reiner always would run these sessions and you would think of all the most embarrassing moments in your life and all the horrifying things that happened to you. See, I wrote for a lot of the old comics, but I wrote for the young comics. And a great influence on me was Lenny Bruce, who really you couldn't write for but you could kind of pitch with and learn about it. And his formula always was very clear, which was pain plus time equals humor.
So the way we got most of the humor was we had to think about our pain that had been done in the past and turned into humor. A sample on the old "Dick Van Dyke Show," I - this is radio, but you can picture this, folks. I have some moles on my back, and my mother, a sensitive women, said to me when I was 9 years old, you have so many moles on your back I could take a pencil and connect all the dots and it would turn out to be a picture like in the book you do, your connect the dots book.
Well, it totally embarrassed me at 9 years old. I didn't take my shirt off at the beach for two years. But later in life in thinking about that, I kind of pitched a story about that, that that should happen to Dick Van Dyke. And we did a whole episode on "Dick Van Dyke" where he falls asleep with his shirt off and this kid connects his moles and it comes out a picture of the Liberty Bell. And he goes on "Believe It Or Not." So it was a whole crazy episode that was based on my pain.
GROSS: So, again, back to something you just said, did you work with Lenny Bruce?
MARSHALL: I worked with him, but I was a drummer where he worked, so I talked to him a lot...
GROSS: Oh, no.
MARSHALL: ...And I studied him. And you can't really write his material. He writes it himself, but he was another one where he said you got to find it in life. Every day you look out and you see something humorous. That's what it comes from.
GROSS: Now, Lenny Bruce wasn't exactly a rimshot kind of comic, but did you do rimshots for (laughter) during his monologues?
MARSHALL: Well, you know, he started out as a winner on the Arthur Godfrey talent contest. No, he lost (unintelligible) actually lost the Arthur Godfrey talent contest to a man who sang "I Believe." But he didn't do rimshots, but he did a lot of stuff with - actually with percussions. He did do some stuff. He played the drums himself, so we had some camaraderie.
GROSS: But, I mean, you didn't do rimshots for him during his act.
MARSHALL: No, no, only to make fun of rimshots.
GROSS: Right, exactly, oh, OK.
MARSHALL: But the other guys I did it for real, you know, bah-dum-bum (ph).
MARSHALL: Now, we don't even do rimshots. The band just says it. The band doesn't play it. They - the whole band goes bah-dum-bum.
MARSHALL: But that's the old style of comedy, but still, you know, in a way has a place.
GROSS: Now, I had always assumed that "Happy Days" was based on George Lucas' "American Graffiti." But I was reading one of my TV reference books, and it turns out "American Graffiti" was based on a pilot that you did for "Happy Days."
MARSHALL: Well, I wouldn't say it was based on it. We both were coming out about the same time. I had done an early version of "Happy Days." It was called "New Family In Town," and it starred Ron Howard and some of the other members of the cast. Henry Winkler as Fonzie was not in the original pilot. But I did this pilot, and it did not sell. They said, who cares about the '50s?
And then George, meanwhile, was working on his "American Graffiti." And his casting director called me up when they were finally ready to shoot it and asked me could he see my pilot because he wanted to see Ron Howard's performance as a '50s character. And I sent him the pilot, and that's how they cast Ron Howard in "American Graffiti."
GROSS: Now had did an ethnic kid from the Bronx, like yourself, write a series about, you know, a seemingly non-ethnic family in Middle America?
MARSHALL: Well, I am Italian - my real name is Masciarelli - and I grew up in the Bronx and actually was raised Protestant in a Jewish neighborhood, yet I'm Italian. So I'm a mix-up of everything, as my sister Penny is. So we just would write to kind of a New York feel. But at the time, it was very difficult to do ethnic things on television. But mostly, in my day, there was Molly Goldberg. That with the ethnic show.
MARSHALL: And there was "Amos 'n' Andy," and that was that. The rest all had to be - they had to look like "Father Knows Best." So what worked for us is we took the humor of - which is a lot of ethnic humor, but we put it in the mouth of an actor like Ron Howard. And suddenly, it comes out funny, but it doesn't - it has a more national base. More of the audience relates to it.
GROSS: So tell me, do have any weird, unproduced pilots in your drawer?
MARSHALL: Oh, some we produced were pretty weird. You know, back to the many - you know, I was very fortunate in TV that I had, really, I guess, four or five shows that really made an impression and were - have to be considered hits. But I had 13 that were flops, you know. I did a lot of pilots. I was the genius who came up with a show called "The Recruiters" right in the middle of the Vietnam War...
MARSHALL: ...Where I was doing - recruiting young men for the war, which was a quiet quick one. Boom - that was gone.
MARSHALL: I also did a show called "Me And The Chimp" that - I thought I'd dabble in animals, but that was a big fiasco. But the best pilot I ever did never did get on the air (unintelligible).
GROSS: What was that?
MARSHALL: Jerry Belson and I did a pilot called "Sheriff Who?" which was our statement against violence. It was a big anti-violence statement, but nobody got it. And they thought it was violent. And...
MARSHALL: So they didn't want it. But many - to this day, I still get calls. And we made it a movie called "Evil Roy Slade." Many people, to this day will come up to me - a lot of the young people - you know, I figure well, I've been doing it for a long time. These kids, they don't know who I am. The first thing they do when they meet me, they say - can you get me a copy of that "Evil Roy Slade," that "Sheriff Who?" thing? That was the hippest, funniest thing I ever saw.
I don't know where they saw it. They run this thing at 3 in the morning. And it was probably the best thing Jerry Belson and I ever did as a pilot. It was just a little too hip for the territory and a little too far out. But we found - Alice Cooper had T-shirts made for his band called the Evil Roy Slade. He had them written on. He loved that show - and it was only on once. And it was a rerun sometimes late at night. So that was my favorite. It just never happened.
GROSS: Well, Garry Marshall, it's been a lot of fun to talk with you. Thanks a lot for talking with us.
MARSHALL: OK. I had fun, Terry, a pleasure. And I love this sound of this microphone. It's so calm.
GROSS: Garry Marshall, recorded in 1991. He died yesterday at the age of 81.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, black lives and blue lives. I'll speak with Tom Gibbons, a former Philadelphia Police officer who was shot three times and Eric Adams who's experienced the duality of marching against police brutality and also serving as an NYPD officer. He was beaten up by cops when he was 15, and now, as a black father, he worries about his son. Eric Adams currently serves as Brooklyn Borough president. I hope you'll join us.
FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers and Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, John Sheehan, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.