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These 3 Political TV Shows Capture D.C. Perfectly

By Michael M. Clements | May 28, 2019 | Culture

Three government-themed TV shows have the look and cadence of Washington down pat—who do they speak to?

Madam Secretary


Synopsis: Téa Leoni stars as Elizabeth McCord, the shrewd, determined secretary of state who drives international diplomacy and circumvents protocol as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home.

Agency: The State Department

D.C. Moment: In the 5th season premiere, former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton, General Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, all appear as themselves.

Why it’s like D.C.: “People often say the show has an eerie ability to predict future events, like tension in NATO, drone strikes in Syria, or the debate over the [25th] Amendment. But really, it's just a matter of listening to experts and extrapolating,” says creator and executive producer, Barbara Hall. “Many events in the show are dramatizations of real events experienced by State Department staff, like the annual Iftar dinner (Ep. 421) or layover experiences in Shannon, Ireland (Ep. 506), where the State Department plane refuels,” adds Executive Producer Lori McCreary.

D.C. Insider: “We are in frequent touch with our consultants at the Glover Park Group,” says Executive Producer David Grae.

D.C. Detour: The show films in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Real D.C. character we’d like to see guest appear: Donald Trump

Watch it: CBS, Season 5 ended in April; streaming on CBS All Access

The Enemy Within

Synopsis: In this fast-paced, spy-hunting thriller, Erica Shepherd (Jennifer Carpenter)—a brilliant former government operative now known as the most notorious traitor in American history—is serving life in a Supermax prison. FBI Agent Will Keaton enlists her help to track down a dangerous criminal.

Agency: CIA and FBI

D.C. Moment: A portion of the pilot was filmed in D.C.

D.C. Compatible: “The costume department visited the FBI to research uniforms, the stunt department reviewed video footage of FBI raids and the art department scoured public sources for images of the CIA training facility known as ‘The Farm,’ ” says creator and executive producer, Ken Woodruff.

D.C. Insider: “The show uses a creative consultant who has worked for the FBI,” Woodruff says. “In speaking with someone who had firsthand knowledge of the culture and way of thinking at both the FBI and CIA, it became very clear early on these two agencies are nothing alike and are often in conflict with one another. That’s become a huge creative point in this season.”

D.C. Detour: The show films primarily in New Jersey.

Real D.C. character we’d like to see guest appear: James Comey

Watch it: NBC, premiere season, Mondays 10 p.m. EST, through May; streaming on Hulu

The Blacklist

Synopsis: American crime thriller starring Raymond "Red" Reddington (James Spader), a former U.S. Navy officer turned high-profile criminal who voluntarily surrenders to the FBI after eluding capture for decades. He tells the FBI that he is in posession of a list of the most dangerous criminals in the world and is willing to share it in exchange for immunity.

Agency: FBI

D.C. Moment: A portion of the pilot was filmed in D.C.

D.C. Compatible: “I think that, more than political happenings, we try and weave political ideas into the show. We typically don’t do many ‘ripped from the headlines’ kinds of stories, but many stories are inspired by political ideas,” says creator and executive producer, Jon Bokenkamp.

D.C. Insider: “We’ve been lucky enough to work with Brad Garrett from the very first episode of the show. Brad is a former FBI agent and reads every script. He combs through the details, everything from the kinds of agents that might show up at a crime scene, the kinds of weapons and artillery that’s typically used, even dialogue at times,” says Bokenkamp.

D.C. Detour: The show films in New York.

Real D.C. character we’d like to see guest appear: Paul Manafort

Watch it: NBC, Season 6, Fridays 9 p.m. EST, through late May; streaming on Hulu