Tim Daly: Mr. Madam Secretary Madam Secretary's Tim Daly shares what it's like being in a show about the American government in our current political climate, and his friendship with Madeleine Albright.
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Tim Daly: Mr. Madam Secretary

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Tim Daly: Mr. Madam Secretary

Tim Daly: Mr. Madam Secretary

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. Before the break, our contestant Sam won his way to the final round at the end of the show. We'll find out a little later who he will face off against. But first, it's time to welcome our special guest. He stars as Henry McCord on "Madam Secretary." Please welcome Tim Daly.


EISENBERG: I want to start with how I first met you. You starred as Joe Hackett on the long-running sitcom "Wings."


EISENBERG: Started in 1990; lasted eight seasons. OK. So I know that, you know, maybe you feel that it didn't get its due at the time because of "Seinfeld" and...

TIM DALY: "Cheers."

EISENBERG: ..."Cheers." So...

DALY: "Friends."

EISENBERG: "Friends."

DALY: I could go on.


EISENBERG: But, you know, "Will And Grace," for example, is having a revival. Do you think "Wings" deserves a revival?

DALY: Well, I...


DALY: Oh, thank you. I mean, I think it deserves to sort of its appropriate place in sitcom lore because somebody sent me a clip from "Wings" the other day, and I watched it. And it was like watching another person because it was 25 years ago. And I was watching this young man, and I thought - that guy's a really good actor. That's just is funny. And it was me.


DALY: And I was like - wow, I used to be good.


DALY: But I thought it was funny, and I actually got a little welled up watching it. So I think that it, you know, deserves to be known as one of the just great sort of classic sitcoms of that era.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So we just need to keep streaming it, keep getting the word out.

DALY: Yes. We're talking about a reunion?


DALY: Oh...


DALY: ...Sure. Why not?


EISENBERG: Two-hour, like, Christmas, holiday special.

DALY: A very special "Wings."

EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly.


EISENBERG: So now we know you as Henry McCord on "Madam Secretary." I know...


DALY: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's right.

See, I know a lot of women fans love the character because the character finds power sexy. But you also have a lot of guy fans that come up to you, I'm told.

DALY: It's true. I mean, I think that, if you think about it, males are portrayed on TV largely - and this has gone on since, you know, "The Honeymooners" with Jackie Gleason - as these kind of bumbling, dreamy boobs who are totally incompetent, who have to be saved by these beautiful, you know, sort of understanding, all-knowing women.

I mean, they can't do anything. They sit on the couch. They - you know, they're, like, scratching themselves, eating junk food and watching TV. And the woman comes in, and she's hot. And she goes - oh, guys, (unintelligible mimicking). And they're like, (unintelligible mimicking). You know, they're just idiots.


DALY: And I think that there a lot of men who aren't idiots, who are competent, who can actually be left alone with a child and not be accused of damaging it or killing it, who can be left alone and not burn the house down or, you know, leave it a total mess. And a lot of men come up to me and say, thank you for portraying a man who is competent and not a complete loser.

EISENBERG: Right. Like, he knows where the things are in the house.

DALY: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Just, like, simple things.

DALY: Well, actually - in the first season, it got a little out of hand because by the fourth episode, I'd cooked, like, 14 meals. And I was like...


DALY: ...OK. Like, if I'm playing, like, a 21st-century version of, you know, a housewife, I don't want to do that either.


DALY: But I'm glad that Henry cooks.

EISENBERG: Right. You're like, tone it down, everybody. It's getting...

DALY: Yeah, just dial...

EISENBERG: ...Unbelievable.

DALY: Yeah, dial it down. Yeah.

EISENBERG: I imagine, you know, being on any show right now that is portraying the government, it's an interesting time to be on a show like that, even if it's fictitious because your viewers might be watching it in a different way.

DALY: Well, listen, I think we started out thinking that we would have these wild plotlines that would get people's adrenaline going, and they would - you know, we'd go right up to the edge of them thinking - oh, that would never happen. And now we're like, oh, my God - we're, like, the relaxing show.


DALY: You know, we're like oh, this is so nice. Look at this. Even these wild plotlines seem so calm and realistic compared to what's really going on, which is insane.

EISENBERG: Your show's therapy.

DALY: Yes. People watch it to kind of wean themselves off of the actual news.


EISENBERG: Yes. That's exact - and Madeleine Albright is a big fan.

DALY: She is, Madeleine. She's my White House Correspondents' Dinner girlfriend. I met her there. I was at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. And I - at the time, I was doing a television show called "Private Practice."



DALY: And somebody says, meet Madeleine Albright. And Madeleine Albright, who's one of the smartest, most powerful, interesting, accomplished women I've ever met, who's about 5 feet tall, maybe looked at and she said, oh, my God - Pete from "Private Practice." You and Violet this and (imitating fast-paced speech).


DALY: I'm like - whoa, whoa, whoa. Like, whoa, what's happening? I said, you, like, are giving speeches and writing books and solving geopolitical crises and you watch "Private Practice"? She goes yes, my favorite show. And Pete and Violet (imitating fast-paced speech). It's like - she knew the plot better than I did. And I thought, this is interesting.

EISENBERG: That's amazing.

DALY: Here's this woman who deals with all this important stuff every day, and she has her shows. And I happened to be on one of them. So we became pals. And we've, you know, spent a few White House Correspondents' Dinners together as, you know, boyfriend and girlfriend.


EISENBERG: Is she a good time?

DALY: She's a great time, I'm telling you.



DALY: Yeah. Actually, Bob Schieffer and Tea Leoni and Madeleine and I went on a double date a couple years ago, which is really funny because we came to this one entrance, and there's little Madeleine, you know, being very charming and sweet. And we wanted to go in the entrance, and there was a Secret Service guy who was like, they want to go in the entrance. They're not allowed - I'm sorry, you have to move on. And Madeleine suddenly went from five feet tall to, like, a thousand foot - she was like, I am Madeleine Albright. I am the secretary of state. We will be driving through this. And all these Secret Service guys are like, OK, OK, OK, OK, come on in. Come on in. So I was like, yeah. You don't want to get on her bad side. Let's put it that way.

EISENBERG: Nice. Now, your sister, Tyne Daly, and you are...

DALY: Is Tyne Daly my sister?


EISENBERG: I believe so.

DALY: This is what I get. It's, like, 35 years. She's my sister, people. Tell your friends.


EISENBERG: What do they usually think?

DALY: They have no idea. It's like, really? Tyne Daly's your sister? Yeah, she has been for 60 years.


EISENBERG: Oh, they're like, you know Tyne Daly? Do they say...

DALY: Yes, yeah (laughter).

EISENBERG: OK, (laughter). Yeah, OK. Well, yes, she's your sister.

DALY: She's my sister, yes.

EISENBERG: And you guys have worked together a little bit, but you have a new play coming out that is written just for the two of you in mind.

DALY: Yes. Theresa Rebeck, who is a fantastic and prolific playwright - yes, thank you. I did a play of hers at a little theater in Vermont called the Dorset Theatre Festival a couple years ago. And she kind of liked me. And she said, oh, we've got to do work again together. And I said, why don't you write a play for Tyne and me? And she did. She wrote a play for us. And...

EISENBERG: You were like, oh, I didn't expect you would take me seriously (laughter).

DALY: And Tyne and I have never appeared on stage together. So this summer at the Dorset Theatre Festival, we are appearing in this world premiere of a Theresa Rebeck play called "Downstairs."


DALY: And we play...


DALY: ...Brother and sister.

EISENBERG: Whoa. That's fantastic. Now, I feel like you do a lot of things. But you in your acting career between high school and college took some time off and sold and installed floor tiles, is that correct?

DALY: I had a floor tiling company, The Silver Dollar Tile Company. We would install a silver dollar in every floor that we laid. My father was remodeling this house - right? - in Los Angeles. And I got - he hired me as a laborer. And I was sort of apprenticing with this carpenter. And I met these Mexican guys who taught me how to do tiling. And they sent me and my friend down to Mexico to pick up some tile. We met this guy who called himself El Primo.


DALY: And El Primo...

EISENBERG: (Laughter) El Primo.

DALY: ...Had a deal with the border guards, right? So we made this deal with him and he shipped us like 30,000 square feet of that beautiful terra cotta floor tile...


DALY: ...To LA and we didn't have to pay any tariff. So we could charge, like, 250 percent profit on every tile and be 30 cents a tile under the going price. So that's how The Silver Dollar Tile Company...

EISENBERG: And it was very successful, but basically you used up all the stock and then abandoned the trade?

DALY: There was no stock. There was beer.

EISENBERG: Oh (laughter).

DALY: We used up all the beer, and then we disbanded and did other things.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Excellent. I think that is a perfect business model, by the way.

DALY: Yeah.

EISENBERG: On top of everything else, you've been the voice of Superman, the animated version of Superman.

DALY: I have.


EISENBERG: OK, so we have a game right up your alley.

DALY: Oh, God.

EISENBERG: Were you a Superman fan as a kid? Or were you Batman...

DALY: Well...

EISENBERG: ...Or Hulk or something?

DALY: No, you know what? I like Superman.


DALY: I mean, Batman is so dark. And he's gotten so dark that it's just really depressing. But I did see "The Lego Movie."


DALY: I like - that Batman was better. He was kind of cute.

EISENBERG: OK, so this is perfect. I'm going to name a comic book character and describe the character's superpower. You just have to tell me if it's a character that actually appeared in multiple comic books or if we just made it up.


EISENBERG: OK. And if you do well enough, Nick Westar (ph) of San Jose, Calif. will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

DALY: Whoa.

EISENBERG: I know. Think about it.


DALY: That's big.

EISENBERG: Here's your first one. The Clock King, his only power - extreme punctuality. Is that real or fake?

DALY: That is false.

EISENBERG: It sounds like it could be false, but it's real.


DALY: Damn it. But I said that with so much conviction.

EISENBERG: I know, I know.

DALY: Does that count for anything?

EISENBERG: I know, right?

DALY: Sorry, Nick. Geez, OK.

EISENBERG: You're...

DALY: The Clock King? Oh, boy.

EISENBERG: He's a villain, clearly. He was born William Tockman.


DALY: His nickname was Tick, obviously.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah.

DALY: Tick Tockman.

EISENBERG: Tick Tockman. He's very precise about time, carries a pocket watch or wears a very expensive wristwatch. How about Matter, as in M-A-T-T-E-R, Matter-Eater Lad. He can eat anything. That's it.

DALY: I'm going to say that's true.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's...

DALY: Yes.

EISENBERG: ...A real comic book character.


DALY: I was that kid. I was Eater Lad or whatever it is.

EISENBERG: Yeah, you ate all matter?

DALY: That's going to be my epitaph, he was a good eater.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) That's a really good quality. That's going to get you through the apocalypse. How about Arm-Fall-Off-Boy?


EISENBERG: He can detach any of his own limbs and use them like clubs to defeat criminals.

DALY: That's the hardest one. I'm going to say true.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's true.


EISENBERG: Yeah, he tried to enlist in the Legion of Super-Heroes, but he was rejected.


EISENBERG: I actually didn't know there was storylines like that where they applied but they don't get in like (unintelligible) or something like that.

DALY: Yeah, like, what do you do with a super power if you're not - if you're rejected? You'd become a villain, right?

EISENBERG: I imagine.

DALY: That's your only choice.

EISENBERG: Yeah. How about Angst Boy?


EISENBERG: His supercharged teen hormones create black holes that suck in his enemies.

DALY: I want to do the voice of Angst Boy. I don't know, I think that's false.

EISENBERG: It is false.


EISENBERG: It is false.


EISENBERG: I mean, real in life but false as a superhero. All right, this is your last clue. The Red Bee - he's an assistant district attorney in Oregon...


EISENBERG: ...Who secretly fights crime with his trained bumblebee Michael...


EISENBERG: ...Who lives in a container on his belt.


DALY: All right, look, I was almost going to say true until you said Oregon.


DALY: They don't really need superheroes there. They're just chilling.


DALY: I'm going to say false.

EISENBERG: I'm sorry. He's real.


DALY: What?


DALY: Read that again. What does he do?

EISENBERG: He's a...

DALY: His bumblebee lives on his belt?


EISENBERG: Yes. And the bumblebee's name is Michael, which I kind of love.

DALY: Michael? That's like naming a dog John.



DALY: You can't do that - John (whistling).


EISENBERG: He fights Nazis with a bunch of trained bees, but Michael is his favorite bee.


DALY: OK. I thought you said superheroes, not supercreepy (ph) guys.

EISENBERG: It's supercreepy guy, I know. Congratulations, Tim. You did well enough that Nick Westar is going to get an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.


DALY: Nick, congratulations.

EISENBERG: You can see Tim on the CBS series "Madam Secretary." Give it up for our special guest Tim Daly.

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