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How Tim Daly’s ‘Madam Secretary’ character wound up reading that book

WASHINGTON – Surely, almost everyone watching Sunday night’s episode of ABC’s political drama “Madam Secretary” missed one little detail – but hidden in the action was an Easter egg for the wonky set.

In a scene where the titular character, a tough and principled secretary of state played by Tea Leoni, and her husband, played by Tim Daly, are getting ready for bed, Daly’s character is reading. And not just any tome – a few (likely bespectacled) eyes caught that it was Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass’s new book, “A World in Disarray.” The reading material was perfectly in-character: Daly plays a theologist and undercover intelligence officer, the kind of guy who would plausibly find the treatise on the demise of the global order a relaxing bedtime read.

So how did the book wind up onscreen? It turns out the choice wasn’t the work of an up-on-world-affairs propmaster, but rather, it was Daly’s own doing.

Haass and the actor have met several times over the years, first at a Black Eyed Peas concert at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, CFR vice president of media affairs Lisa Shields tells us. When Haass published his book, Daly was on the list of folks who got copies from the author. The actor apparently enjoyed the read, and let Haass know he was planning to use a copy during the filming of the show.

Haass wasn’t sure until the episode aired whether the scene would make it or wind up on the proverbial editing-room floor.

“He was delighted,” Shields says, to see it make its prime-time appearance.

The stagecraft no doubt helped the show’s bona fides – unlike, say the far-fetched doings on “House of Cards,” “Madam Secretary” often gets kudos for getting at least some things right about life at Foggy Bottom.

“It hews close to world events … there’s nothing implausible about the scenarios,” Shields says, noting the show’s ripped-from-the-headlines storylines. As for the “World in Disarray,” she says it aptly describes both the fictional world of the CBS drama and the one unfolding on cable-news screens: “It’s perfect for what was happening in the show and in real life.”