Garry Trudeau discusses how ‘Doonesbury’ helped him with ‘Alpha House’

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“Doonesbury,” the classic comic strip, has had to take a back seat as its cartoonist, Garry Trudeau, focuses on his Amazon original series, “Alpha House,” but that doesn’t mean the old hasn’t helped inform the new.

Trudeau took part in a panel for his political satire series Saturday during the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills, and the Pulitzer Prize winner spoke of how “Doonesbury,” which has been on hiatus since March, helped prime him for his current endeavor.

“I have put in thousands of hours in creating narratives [for Doonesbury] on deadline,” he said. “And I’ve been doing that for decades. It was good preparation for this.”


Trudeau’s previous TV credits include the “Tanner ‘88,” a political mockumentary mini-series that aired on HBO in the late 1980s.

“Alpha House” chronicles the sometimes madcap lives of four senators -- played by John Goodman, Clark Johnson, Matt Malloy and Mark Consuelos -- who share a house in Washington D.C. It returns for a second season in late October.

Trudeau said the series stands apart from the other political-centered series on TV in that it is set in the real world -- Barack Obama is president and the colleagues of the fictional characters are real people.

“We have to be mindful that the show is going to appear many months after we make it,” he said. “We try to anticipate what the political landscape will look like in the fall.”

“Alpha House’s” executive producer, Jonathan Alter, a former Newsweek senior editor, said that’s where Trudeau excels.

“One of the great things about Doonesbury that I noticed many years ago, is that [Garry] has this uncanny ability to anticipate where things are going politically. That has continued in ‘Alpha House.’” Alter pointed to a scene in the first season that involved a talking filibuster -- which would turn out to be a fortuitous scene as the news cycle had just gone wild over Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster in 2013.


It has led to a show that Joe Lewis, head of comedy for Amazon Studios, said fans have responded to, making it one of the streaming site’s top performers -- though, Amazon won’t reveal viewership data.

Could that cause Doonesbury fans to lead a boycott, though? Trudeau suspended doing daily strips in March, with reruns running in the place of new ones -- though he continues doing the Sunday strip -- to focus on his TV series. And on Saturday, Trudeau said he has no plans to end that hiatus as “Alpha House” continues its run.

Twitter: @villarrealy