May 14, 2014

NIELSENWAR 2014-15 Trailer Review: CBS’s “Madam Secretary”


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THE FACTS:  Tea Leoni plays Elizabeth McCord, a college professor and former CIA analyst unexpectedly named by the President (Keith Carradine)–who used to be her boss at the CIA–as his new Secretary of State.  She battles with his Chief of Staff (Zeljko Ivanek), and her plainspoken style doesn’t suit all of her own staff, which includes an aide played by Bebe Neuwirth.  At home, hubby is Tim Daly.  The series creator is Barbara Hall, most recently a senior writer/producer on Homeland.

WHAT IT’S SAYING:  Smart, adult drama worthy of being the lead-in to The Good Wife and discussed in the rarefied terms usually reserved these days for cable TV.  You’ll think of The West Wing.  Tea Leoni is a star, and she’s surrounded by an A-level supporting cast.

WHAT IT’S REALLY SAYING:  A classy, intelligent piece of work–but don’t worry, it’s still CBS.  Despite the DC setting, no Shonda Rhimesian melodrama here.  Instead, there’ll be a crisis of the week for the heroine to solve (in the pilot, she singlehandedly secures the rescue of two teens arrested in Syria), and she’ll also show up the pompous Washington brass whenever they get in her way.

THE OUTLOOK:  An older, female audience skew–but that’s true of The Good Wife as well, and like Good Wife, it should appeal to an affluent, educated viewership that advertisers prize.  The two shows are well matched (at some point, one would expect Madam Secretary to become more serialized, although the trailer doesn’t indicate that), yet a show with this demo appeal is an odd choice to come out of Sunday afternoon football.  Leoni has been off the air for a while, and she was notorious for being an actress consistently praised for series that flopped.  This is the network’s big swing for fall, and the question may become whether it’s big enough.  The bar will be very high–not necessarily in terms of ratings (a few tenths above Good Wife would be fine), but of quality.  When a series comes out of the gate looking for prestige points this eagerly, it’s going to have to earn them.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."