Sure, the Amazon series “Alpha House” is about a foursome of Republican senators, but the late great Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy lives on in some of the scenes.
“It’s very hard to get pictures of Senate hideaways – the whole point is to get away from the press,” explained Jonathan Alter, an executive producer of the show who spent years covering politics for Newsweek. Alter was talking about the unmarked offices in the U.S. Capitol that are divvied up among sitting senators. “But 12 years ago in 2002, on the 40th anniversary of his election to the Senate, Ted Kennedy gave me an interview I did for the 'Today' show and he agreed to have the interview take place in his Senate hideaway,” Alter recalled.
Judy Rhee, the show’s production designer who’s up for an Emmy, dug up the interview and rebuilt the Kennedy hideaway on a soundstage in Queens. In the series, it’s the special office snapped up by freshman Sen. Andy Guzman, described by Alter as a Marco Rubio-John Edwards hybrid and played by Mark Consuelos. In reality, it’s one of the most coveted pieces of property in the Capitol Building. “And it looks exactly like Ted Kennedy’s hideaway down to the color of the paint on the wall, with the exception that the memorabilia is from Florida instead of Massachusetts,” Alter said of the “Alpha House” version.
Authenticity is a big thing for Alter. “I really wanted insiders, Washingtonians like you, to say that the set was realistic,” the best-selling author told a crowd Wednesday night gathered at a Smithsonian Associates event. Along with Consuelos, the show stars John Goodman, Matt Malloy and Clark Johnson, who plays Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Bettencourt.
Johnson, on hand at the event, reminded the crowd that while the sets were spot on, they couldn’t film the show in Washington.
“They call it 'Fort Washington' for a reason – it’s tough for us to shoot here,” Johnson said.
It’s particularly tough, Alter said, to film where they would need to – on Capitol Hill. “I brought a group from our show down to Washington … and we went all over with the help of [Sens.] Al Franken and Michael Bennet and their staff … and it was confirmed to us that we were absolutely prohibited from shooting anywhere on Capitol Hill,” Alter said.
There’s also one District of Columbia landmark that Alter and the cast have never actually popped their heads into – the real Alpha House, actually dubbed the Omega House.
“I tried,” Alter said. “I’m friendly with all four of them,” referring to the original four roommates of the townhome that inspired the show: Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; retiring Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.; and former Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass. (Delahunt is a lobbyist now.)
The closest Alter got was when he was doing reporting for his book, “The Promise: President Obama, Year One,” and spending lots of time with Miller. “At one point I said, ‘Can we chat at your house?’ And he said, ‘No way,’” Alter recalled. “I realized later, when I started reading several stories about it, it’s a pigsty – it makes our set look so clean by comparison.”
The second season of "Alpha House" will be available to Amazon Prime customers this fall.