Heard on the Hill

'Brain Dead' on Capitol Hill: Reid Staffer Consulted on New Series

Sci-fi series premieres Monday night

Jan Maxwell as Sen. Ella Pollack on CBS' BrainDead (Courtesy BrainDead/CBS)

Although he admittedly did not know “much” about thought-controlling extraterrestrials or ’80s earworms such as The Cars’ “You Might Think,” David McCallum wasn’t opposed to having Hollywood pick his brain about life on Capitol Hill.  

His nearly two decades of experience are expected to help add color to “BrainDead ,” a CBS summer series premiering Monday night exploring the possibility that our political system is actually controlled by alien parasites.  

“I never thought I’d be involved in anything like that,” McCallum, who serves as deputy chief of staff to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said of the logistical information he provided show creators Robert and Michelle King as they researched the inner workings of the legislative branch.  

The duo last delved into politics with “The Good Wife,” a soapy drama that concluded its run this year.  

This time around, the Kings are hoping to have some fun with the establishment, hitting upon a what if? scenario that Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever characterized as “a lesser season of ‘The West Wing’ and the latter-day Nicole Kidman remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’”  

Tony Shalhoub as Sen. Red Wheatus on CBS' BrainDead (Courtesy BrainDead/<a href="http://www.cbs.com/shows/braindead/photos/1006488/sneak-peek-photos-of-the-braindead-cast/110630/tony-shalhoub-as-senator-raymond-red-wheatus-/" target="_blank">CBS</a>)
Tony Shalhoub as Sen. Red Wheatus on CBS' BrainDead (Courtesy BrainDead/CBS)

McCallum said he was brought into the fold almost by accident, lucking into a luncheon with the Kings with his friend Judy Smith — “the real-life person “Scandal” is based on,” he said of his pal, the legendary crisis management specialist. They had a bite, talked shop and he figured that was that.  

About a year later, someone reached out asking for advice on “little detail things.”  

The writers inquired about work-a-day routines, and McCallum said he did his best to portray things as realistically as possible.   

For instance, in a scene where one character receives a new assignment, McCallum said he convinced the crew to use the term "constituent casework" (a real job in congressional offices) rather than the generic “constituent care.”  

On the rare occasions when the writers fished for guidance on something beyond his purview, McCallum said he crowdsourced answers among peers.  

“There were a few things they threw at me that I wasn’t sure of,” he said.  

Other than finally caving in and watching some early seasons of “House of Cards” — “I did break down and order Netflix,” he shared — McCallum insists he’s not typically drawn to political programming.  

But he said he’ll make an exception for “BrainDead” — especially since he hasn't seen a single frame of the finished product.  

“I’m looking forward to seeing what this looks like on the screen tonight,” he said.  

The series, which is projected to have a 13-episode run, premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on CBS.

Contact Rojas at  warrenrojas@rollcall.com   and follow him on Twitter  @WARojas .

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