Of course he knows about dictators. He wrote for ‘Succession.’

For the past 15 years or so, television writer Will Tracy has been fixated on autocrats: reading about European and African and Middle Eastern ones, and helping write the boardroom bullies on “Succession.” While some people lose themselves in true crime, Tracy is stuck on dictatorships.

“What they usually say is when people are obsessed with reading about things like that, that in some maybe unconscious way, you’re trying to prepare yourself in case you find yourself in similar political circumstances,” Tracy, now the ruler of his own TV show, said this week. “Maybe it’s just as simple as if you read about the siege of Leningrad before you go to sleep, my head in some way rests easier on the pillow knowing that oh, you know, my problems aren’t so bad.”

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All that self-assigned homework has resulted in Tracy’s new limited series for HBO, “The Regime,” in which Kate Winslet stars as Elena Vernham — the shall-we-say eccentric chancellor of an unnamed country in what is called “Middle Europe.” Vernham is a hypochondriac, desperately afraid of mold when we meet her, so the palace recruits a new lackey to assuage her fears: Herbert Zubak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a soldier who was recently responsible for a massacre at a cobalt mining site. Elena, easily influenced, takes a shine to the handsome roughneck. The material ranges from the violent to the zany. There’s bloodshed but also Winslet’s Vernham singing Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” off-key and with a lisp.

The series, which premieres March 3, marks Tracy’s first venture as a creator after an Emmy-winning stint on “Succession,” where he wrote episodes such as the final season’s “Tailgate Party” (the one with that deeply uncomfortable showdown between Tom and Shiv).

But even though “The Regime” is being billed as “from the executive producers of ‘Succession,’” making a follow-up to that beloved series was never Tracy’s intention. “I didn’t want to make something that people would see and think, oh it’s kind of a watered down ‘Succession,’” Tracy said. “That’s partly why there was that choice to make it just not look and feel tonally quite like ‘Succession.’” That show had its heightened, zany moments, but it occupied a universe near our own. “The Regime” is “a bit more pushed, it’s a bit more stylized, it’s in this sort of strange, invented place far away from America” Tracy said.

If the shows have a commonality, it’s in their satire of the powerful — an area Tracy knows well from his days as editor in chief of the Onion and from co-writing the eat-the-rich restaurant horror “The Menu” with Seth Reiss, who is also on the staff for “The Regime.” The tricky tone they’re after, in which viewers hate these people but also sort of feel for them, is one reason Frank Rich, the former New York Times columnist and “Succession” veteran, signed on to executive produce.

“It’s dark humor laced with terror and also laced with a kind of pathos where you actually feel some kind of sympathy for horrible people,” Rich said.

Tracy’s initial concept for the “The Regime” came when he was reading Ryszard Kapuściński’s 1978 book “The Emperor” about Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Inspired by Kapuściński’s detailed account of not just Selassie’s fall, but also how he spent his days, Tracy’s “dumb elevator pitch,” as he put it, was “Downton Abbey” within an autocrat’s palace. But as he worked on it, he began to refine it into more of a twisted love story between Vernham and Zubak. “I thought, rather than having him fade into the ensemble, what if the guy who is standing against the wall, listening all episode, what if by the end someone asked him what he thinks and he has something to say and what he has to say makes her feel very powerful,” he said.

From his days at the Onion to the time he spent writing for “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” Tracy has used research as the backbone of his work. But while he studied Selassie, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, he didn’t want to make Elena a “Frankenstein” of actual rulers, nor did he want to graft actual historical trauma onto his show. “I’m quite interested in making her feel like a type of head of state we have not seen before,” he said. One way she’s different: She’s a woman, who speaks to her nation as if the subjects were her children and weaponizes an image as a strong female leader to court foreign investment.

And while Vernham’s domain deals with foreign powers that look not unlike our own, her world is a Grimm-like fantasy land. “I kind of wanted to make something that had a dreamy vibe to it,” Tracy said.

Vienna stood in for this made-up country during filming, and Rich explained that even though “The Regime’ takes place in the present day where characters use iPhones, there’s a slight “cuckoo land quality to it.” ‘’

“It’s a heightened reality which to me is so much fun than doing a docudrama,” he added.

In fact, even though the audience might see echoes of certain real-world events in “The Regime,” Tracy was so keen to avoid any echoes that he went through the episodes to weaken any possible parallels. “You never want to pray for the world to go bad,” he said, “so that might help the marketing of your show.”


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