The Circus, Showtime’s political docuseries, is returning for the second half of its fifth season on August 16. Co-host John Heilemann said the show likely will look different as a result of the production challenges faced shooting a series during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking on the Campaign HQ podcast, hosted by President Barack Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe, Heilemann opened up about how production might look on its return and teased a slightly extended run past November depending on the election result.
Heilemann called The Circus the “ultimate field show.” He said that he and fellow hosts Alex Wagner and Mark McKinnon previously shot about 15 interviews for each 30-minute show. “That means there’s four camera crews who are on planes almost every day,” he said, “and we’re deciding on a daily basis where the three hosts are going and the crews are going. We’re just rolling constantly and on the move constantly.”
He said The Circus likely will be less of a “smorgasbord” on its return. “The first thing is that we all assume that we’re not going to be overshooting like that because travel is going to be challenging, so we’re going to have to make decisions ahead of a given week,” he said.
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The Recount co-founder Heilemann said that they could make an interview show “that looks like an Errol Morris documentary” shot in a studio with interviews, temperature checks and COVID testing, but “that would not look much like the show as it’s been for the last four and a half years.”
Left/Right, the Red Arrow Studios-backed producer, has been working up various scenarios.
“What [will] the country would look like?” Heileman said. “What’s the state of testing? How much travel can we do? What are the campaigns actually doing? How much are they out in the world, and are they virtual? What is the state of play? Then [we’ll] design a bunch of scenarios … and try to figure out all of the health protocols that would attend to those given scenarios.”
Heilemann, author of political campaign books including Double Down and Game Change, said that the team will be on the air for 13 weeks at a minimum. “If Trump decides to not accept the election result on Election Night, which I think is a high probability if he’s lost, we’re going to keep making episodes through November if there’s an overtime here,” he said.
“It’s a huge challenge and it’s a huge challenge across the news business and obviously in scripted television,” Heilemann added. “The one thing I know is that this is the most consequential election of our lifetime. Everyone says that every four years, and it isn’t true — this time it probably is true, so we’re going to cover it.
“But the question is exactly how,” he admitted.
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