Showtime’s The Circus returns on Sunday, and a focus on the debut is on the senators running for president who are being forced to leave the campaign trail to be present for the impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
In one clip, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is shown sitting down to hold a “tele-town hall” in Washington last week after the day’s marathon impeachment proceedings wrapped up.
It’s 9:45 p.m. ET, and Klobuchar shows a bit of fatigued humor after the long day.
“Looking forward to talking to everyone in Iowa. Hopefully we don’t wake anyone up and piss them off,” Klobuchar says as she sits down to talk to the voters.
Told that 12,000 people were on the call, Klobuchar says, “OK, that is really a lot,” she says, laughing and rubbing her eye. “OK I better get my act together now… Oh, shorter answers.”
This is the type of behind-the-scenes campaign moment that is a specialty of The Circus.
The show started during the 2016 election as a way of trying to bring a more candid type of coverage of the candidates in a weekly, non-fiction narrative format, something that had never really been done before in a quick turnaround time frame.
After the election, Showtime ordered more seasons, with the focus on Washington and the Trump years, but the fifth season’s focus on the 2020 election “will be returning to our roots,” says Mark McKinnon, the political adviser who is co-creator of the show, and hosts along with John Heilemann and Alex Wagner.
The show averages more than 1 million viewers each week and is the network’s highest rated docuseries, according to Showtime.
The fourth season finale left off on Nov. 10, before the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump and the Senate trial began. Obviously, a lot happened since then, and this week likely will see a Senate decision on whether to call for new witnesses and documents, something that would extend the impeachment proceedings well into February. If not, there could be a vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump by the end of the week.
Even so, McKinnon expects the focus to be on impeachment’s impact on the election. “The thing that we are most interested in is how impeachment affects Donald Trump and the Democrats,” he said.
This season also will be spotlighting a very unpredictable primary season, what with a cluster of five candidates who have a realistic shot at the Democratic nomination. McKinnon said that the Iowa caucuses this cycle are “maybe more significant than ever” in terms of creating momentum for a campaign. The goal for a campaign is to beat expectations, not necessarily even to finish first.
“I think there is certainly a possibility, maybe more so than there has been for a long time, that it will be very muddled,” McKinnon said. “Maybe Iowa won’t determine anything.”
He added, “There are scenarios where three or four candidates win four or five different contests.”
Another ongoing theme will be on what happens to the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party.
“It is not just who wins, but what wing of the party is ascendant,” McKinnon said.
The show still has a rigorous production schedule, but candidates have become more familiar with what they are doing or even more amenable to having cameras follow them during different moments of their campaigns.
He said that when The Circus started, it was “super challenging” to convince campaigns to offer access, not knowing quite what it was. That has changed, not just because the show has been on for more than 60 episodes, but that they “know we are straight shooters and we are trying to provide a different point of view for them.”
“The thing that is more important than anything today is authenticity,” McKinnon said. “You can buy media time and say anything you want. But what our show is striving to do is show a more authentic side of the candidates, something that is often behind the scenes and a little different take.”
Also good for The Circus is that as fatigued as so many people may be about politics, there’s little sign that they are tuning out. McKinnon said, “People are really interested in this election, even more than in 2016.”
The season premiere is Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.