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Why ‘Veep’ and ‘The West Wing’ Plotted a Crossover Reunion (Hint: to Save Democracy)

The Hollywood Reporter 10/9/2022 Jackie Strause
© Courtesy of WisDems

Two of the most beloved White House administrations are coming together for the same cause when the casts of The West Wing and Veep reunite to benefit Wisconsin Democrats.

Slated to appear at Sunday’s TV crossover event are Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Mary McCormack, Janel Moloney and Melissa Fitzgerald from the veteran Emmy-winning NBC political drama, along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, Sam Richardson, Gary Cole and Tim Simons from the Emmy darling HBO political comedy.

“Think about this event as Avengers: Infinity War, where everyone comes together,” David Mandel said Saturday during a rehearsal attended by The Hollywood Reporter.

The showrunner of Veep has gathered the troops for a fundraising livestream before. When addressing the members of the Bartlet and Meyer administrations who had Zoomed in for the run-through, Mandel noted that the last time most of them had gathered for a virtual fan event was in 2020.

That last election season sparked a virtual Hollywood reunion movement that saw casts ranging from Princess Bride to Happy Days coming together to benefit the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for the key battleground state. A mini West Wing cast reunion event — spearheaded by Wisconsin native and star Whitford — ignited the high-profile film and TV reunions that would ultimately go on to raise more than $7 million for the state’s Democratic party. Several Veep events would follow, including an entire cast reunion that raised more than $500,000.

So when Mandel was approached by Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and the WisDems team about doing another Veep event ahead of the high-stakes midterm elections, he started thinking about how to up the ante.

“Obviously, we wanted to help, but 2020 [and the Veep table read reunion] wasn’t that long ago. I wanted to do something different and special, so people had a new reason to make a donation,” Mandel told THR after the rehearsal. “I was a huge West Wing fan, and I pitched the pairing because the shows are really two sides of the same coin.”

He added, “And I was hoping to hear Martin Sheen yell at Jonah Ryan.”

Any donation amount gives fans access to Sunday’s Veep and West Wing event, with the funds supporting Democrats up and down the ballot in Wisconsin.

In 2020, Wikler said he had a wish list in play for the next fundraising season, but that he didn’t want to “jinx anything” by putting it on record. Now, with all eyes again on Wisconsin for November, amid battles for the House, Senate and key statewide offices, that list is coming into play.

“The margins are extremely tight and Wisconsin, election after election, remains one, if not, the most important state in the country — if you’re interested in sort of saving democracy and fighting white nationalism and preserving choice and saving the planet,” Whitford, who has also lent his celebrity to fundraise for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, told THR of creating opportunities for actors to get involved amid the pandemic. “What we can do most effectively is give the people who know how to lay the groundwork for these elections resources by doing what we do best and what we love to do, which is get together with our fellow actors and relive the glory days.”

Getting his West Wing castmates on board, he says, was an easy ask during such an extraordinary political climate. Not only is their group chat active, but he also says they jump at the chance to all get back together.

“In 2020, I had everybody geared up. I was going to rent a bus and take the West Wing people around Wisconsin, and then we couldn’t do it because of COVID. The convention was going to be in Milwaukee, and it would have been a great way to raise awareness, so we stumbled into this way of doing it,” he said of the success of virtual fundraising. “I’ve told Ben that the Wisconsin Dems are like a streamer. They’re relaunching shows.”

The Handmaid’s Tale actor noted the urgency of 2022. He’s acting on a show about a dystopian society that has stripped women of any rights in a post-Roe v. Wade world. “I wasn’t on [the show] the first year, but I know for a fact they didn’t want this to hit so close to home,” he says of the Emmy-winning Hulu series airing amid what he calls an erosion of Democratic principles and women’s autonomy. “[The Handmaid’s Tale author] Margaret Atwood said democracies only survive if we actively participate and protect them. My biggest reason for optimism [going into November] is because I think people understand that a lot of what we take for granted is at risk right now, and I think, certainly, the Supreme Court decision brought that home for a lot of people. We, and especially young people, have all the justification in the world to be cynical, but despair is a luxury that our future can’t afford, and action is the antidote to despair. So, I remain hopeful.”

The action the West Wing and Veep teams are taking on Sunday is to get out the message about how crucial the elections are while entertaining voters and fans alike.

Classic scenes from both shows will be performed by the original casts. But there is a twist in store — there will be updated versions of the scenes to give the audience West Wing versions of Veep scenes and Veep versions of West Wing scenes. Mandel serves as a showrunner and executive producer of the event, with writers Billy Kimball from Veep and Eli Attie from West Wing lending a writing hand, along with contributing jokes from the Veep writing staff.

“Doing Veep‘s version of one particular West Wing episode is the most fun I have had since the start of the pandemic,” noted Louis-Dreyfus to THR post-rehearsal. (After the run-through, she described one Veep take as “fabulously offensive.”)

“Some scenes were chosen because it’s a very famous scene. Others were chosen because they underlined the differences between the two shows,” said Mandel, who still feels that reality remains too Veep-like for the show to make a comeback. “My honest hope is just to win the key races in Wisconsin come November.”

They had already raised $400,000 going into Sunday’s event.

“I just want to continually get the word out that we don’t get a democracy, you have to make it every day,” said Whitford. “If I can help bridge our natural interest in cultural stuff, if I can help the people who do the work every day and to help people understand, especially young people, that the future is still an act of their own imagination, and that the political process is a way for them to build a future they can believe in, you just want to do absolutely anything you can.”

A warning will play ahead of the livestream, which kicks off at 5 p.m. PT. In a voiceover from Simons, the actor notes the event “contains strong partisan ideas (thanks, West Wing), and maybe even stronger language that may be offensive to some (that’s the Veep part).” After playing a series of real-life political clips, he adds: “If any of this offends you, then you have come to the right place.”

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