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‘Veep’ executive producer Frank Rich on a life in theater

AMNA NAWAZ: Frank Rich is a writer and producer
whose career has taken him from The New York Times, as theater critic, to HBO, as executive
producer of “Veep,” now its in final season. In tonight’s Brief But Spectacular, Rich looks
back on his life in the arts. FRANK RICH, Essayist: I grew up in Washington,
D.C. The theater became a kind of obsessive passion
for me as an escape, I think, from a childhood I wanted to escape from. When I was growing up, it was the tail end
of what we now think of as the golden age of New York theater, the careers of Tennessee
Williams, Arthur Miller, the burst of Edward Albee. And there was a theater still exists right
now called the National Theatre, which was a tryout house, as they called it then, for
Broadway shows. I went there so often, usually buying standing
room, that the manager took pity on me and hired me as a ticket-taker. And, frankly, it was my entire education in
the theater, and really, in retrospect, in television producing that I do now, because
you would see a show like “Hello, Dolly!” come in that seemed to be a hit. But you would watch David Merrick work on
it and make it better. You would see “The Odd Couple,” directed by
Mike Nichols, come in, and you would see Neil Simon, the playwright, keep tinkering with
it. I started writing theater reviews when I was
in college on The Harvard Crimson, because I reviewed plays that were trying out in Boston. One of them was a new musical by Stephen Sondheim. Years later, I would find out that the producer
of the show had recommended me to The Times as a potential drama critic. I am really against journalists becoming friendly
or chummy with their subjects. I never went to the Tony Awards. Indeed, to this day, I have never been to
the Tony Awards. I feel the lesson is applicable to Washington. It doesn’t help to be chummy with the people
you’re covering. I’m very much against the White house Correspondents
Dinner, for that reason. But, even at a more profound level, if you
look back, like, at a story like Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein got that story because
they were not going to Georgetown dinner parties and being told by John Mitchell or Henry Kissinger
that this is a nonstory and forget about it. In 2008-ish, I had started working as a consultant
for HBO, and one of the things they were actively looking for was a Washington show. I saw “In The Loop,” Armando Iannucci’s film
about essentially the run-up to the Iraq War, and I immediately felt, this is the guy. Very early on, before we shot anything, he
sent a memo about production design for “Veep.” Here’s the thing, he said. You go to these offices in the EOB or the
White House, they look terrible. There’s detritus everywhere. The chairs don’t fit with the desk. They’re government issue. Everything is a mess. The people dress 10 years behind New York. “Veep” captures D.C. in a way that I had been
waiting for my whole life. It reminds me of what I fantasized about the
theater growing up, being with a show out of town, rewriting it, fixing it, making it
better. It’s great to sort of mix it up and come up
with these crazy stories about these horrible characters whom we love. My name is Frank Rich, and this is my Brief
But Spectacular take on all the theater in my life.

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