How “The Circus” is Changing Political TV

The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth
“The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth” premiered on Showtime toward the end of January.

The show is a real-time documentary following all the candidates running for president in the 2016 U.S. election. Each 30-minute episode goes behind-the-scenes of the campaigns as they encounter the ups and downs of the trail.

Journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (known for hosting “With All Due Respect” on Bloomberg, as well as authoring best-selling books “Game Change” and “Double Down” about the last two national election cycles), and Mark McKinnon, chief media strategist for former President George W. Bush, interact with the contenders and provide insight.

As most documentaries tend to cover an event after it has already occurred, launching the series was a bold move.

“It is daunting to be one more place taking a shot at the presidential election, which is going to be covered by so many different outlets, but I really felt like that we had the opportunity to do something original, something different than the way everyone else is covering it,” said Showtime president David Nevins, who also described the show as part of a “new genre” that entails “spontaneity.”

Nevins believes the program provides audiences an unfettered perspective of the candidates.

“[‘The Circus’] really does show a side of the candidates that you wouldn’t get otherwise,” Nevins added. “You can’t get it in print, and you can’t get it in the sort of talking-head world of basic cable news, and you don’t get it in the evening news. I get a vibe for who Bernie Sanders is, I get a vibe for who Rubio is, Cruz or Kasich is, that is hard to get from any other outlet.”

“The impact of paid media has really diminished, and so we see candidates using alternative routes to communicate,” said McKinnon. “And I think that’s driven largely by the fact that, as we’ve looked at the American electorate and communication strategies over time, (voters) just don’t believe anything that they hear or see from politicians, particularly if it’s paid for. So they are looking for anything that they view as authentic.”

Halperin echoed McKinnon in an interview with Forbes.

“One of the founding principles of this show is, can we show these candidates and the people around them, including their families and senior staff and activists, in a way that you can’t get through other coverage of them for all of the coverage there is?” Halperin said.

Heilemann looked to the future, as seemingly the show is going to continue every week until the national election in November.

“We have been pretty happy with the access we have gotten so far, and yeah, we hope to [have even better access] by the time we get even deeper into the nomination fight and into the general election,” Heilemann said. “You send these crews out and they spend time with these candidates all day long. They get to know them. They get comfortable with them. They start to know the cameramen by name. It just makes people more comfortable going on.”

Showtime recently made the Feb. 28 “The Confidence Game” episode available for free on YouTube, which focused on the top five campaigns in the race right before Super Tuesday occurred. It can be viewed below.

“The Circus” airs every Sunday at 8 p.m. EST.

Author: Brian Cameron


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