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WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif (Reuters) - Armando Iannucci, the creator of HBO's political satire "Veep," remembers a visit he made to the U.S. State Department for research on the show. Behind the imposing facade of the Harry S. Truman Building, the furniture in the bosom of international power was pathetic, he recalls.
"The chairs don't quite match the desk because (the government) went for the cheapest, so you can't actually pull your chair in under the desk because the arms are too high," the show's Scottish creator told Reuters in a recent interview.
That incongruence of power juxtaposed with its foibles and imperfections lies at the heart of "Veep," the send-up of political ambition in the Washington fishbowl that enters its third season on Sunday with Vice President Selina Meyer eyeing another run for the presidency.
Selina has got to fend off rivals, take a concrete stance on abortion and court voting blocs, while still currying favor with the power brokers.
The series on the Time Warner Inc-owned premium cable network stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina, the divorcee restless with her lack of real power and surrounded by a coterie of yes-men and yes-women who try to balance the demands of their job with their own agendas.
There is Amy, played by Anna Chlumsky, the impatient chief of staff with tunnel vision, and Dan (Reid Scott), the deputy director of communications who is always looking for a better gig. Communications director Mike (Matt Walsh) can never clean up his boss' messes or prevent them from leaking.
Then there is Jonah (Timothy Simons), the young, gangly and arrogant White House liaison that everyone finds repellent.
Chlumsky, best known for her roles as a child actress in 1991 film "My Girl," said she learned the ins and outs of the D.C. staffer psyche after picking the brain of California Senator Barbara Boxer's chief of staff, Laura Schiller.
"They're all no-nonsense, that's all something they have in common," said Chlumsky, who also took tips from Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to vice presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore.
Louis-Dreyfus earned an Emmy last year as the best lead actress in a comedy series for the show's first season. Tony Hale, who plays her ever-faithful body man, Gary, won the supporting actor Emmy too.
"I think there's something about showing the humanity of these people and their brokenness and insecurity that takes them off the pedestal," Hale said.
But Iannucci, who is also the creator of the British TV political satire "The Thick of It" and director of the Oscar-nominated spin-off film "In the Loop," said that part of the key to the series' comedy comes from its faithfulness to reality.
"We start with what's their position and then what makes them human, what makes them vulnerable," Iannucci said.
"Veep" has succeeded in making it to its third season, a rare feat for an American political satire. Comedy Central's 2001 series "That's My Bush!," which imagined the George W. Bush White House as a domestic sitcom lasted one season. So did NBC's zany 2012 series "1600 Penn," which settled a trade dispute with a tennis match.
"If you don't have points of grounded reality, it's all like some big madcap," added Hale, who is also known for the role of man-child Buster on comedy series "Arrested Development."
When Iannucci was drafting the show's characters he said he wanted to know, not the hijinks of D.C.'s behind-the-scenes operatives, but the mundane details of the daily grind.
"It's an intense environment ... so morning, noon and night you're meeting the same people and you're talking about the same things. It's a very gossipy town. Everyone frets too much over how something is going to play. How it's going to look," the Oxford-educated comic said.
"I do want people watching the show thinking, 'Oh my god, I bet this is what it's really like,'" he added. "It's very heartening and frightening when you get people in D.C. saying, 'Yeah, I work with a Jonah or we've got two Dans in our office.'"
Editing by Mary Milliken and Tom Brown