Showtime’s “The Circus” picks up – but has the circus left town?
NEW YORK (AP) – What did “The Circus” do when the circus left town?
It’s the pithy question that comes to mind when we learn that the Showtime political series opens its seventh season on Sunday, as consumer interest in political news has plummeted with the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“The thing with the circus – there’s comedy, there’s drama, and there’s physical daring that defies death,” said John Heilemann, one of the show’s four reporters. “These things are still in our politics and we think the drama of US politics is pervasive, has not backed off in any way, and is just as compelling.”
There was no question of ending “The Circus” just because a big story had changed, he said.
Heilemann, along with Mark McKinnon, Jennifer Palmieri and Alex Wagner, walks viewers through the Three Rings each week, explaining the nuances and meaning of political stories. Heilemann spent time in California this week covering Gov. Gavin Newsome’s recall election, while Palmieri polled vaccine policy in Arkansas.
Americans followed political news like entertainment in 2020, much less now. So far this year, for example, prime-time audiences are down 33% from last year on Fox News Channel, down 22% on CNN and 18% on MSNBC, the Nielsen company said.
He doesn’t intend to disrespect cable news – he’s a regular commentator on MSNBC – but Heilemann points out how different “The Circus” is. The audience for the show is up 11% for its sixth season between January and March, compared to the pre-election 2020. Between nomination, dismissal and insurrection, there is no shortage of information.
“The Circus” this season will explore a political divide that has only seemed to widen since Trump stepped down.
“People are talking about it on cable,” he said. “But you don’t actually see it on the cable. One of the things we do differently is let people see it. “
A lot of people were distracted by the personality during the Trump years and didn’t really watch what was going on in the country, said Palmieri, former communications director for President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
One thing Palmieri said he noticed in his reporting is less anger and more worry about the political division. Many people cannot understand why it is difficult to agree to disagree, and why people with different political beliefs seem to live in their own realities.
“It doesn’t necessarily bring us together, but I think it’s something different, and I think it’s something that people are trying to figure out,” she said. “It’s not something you can enjoy unless you’re in the country talking to people.”
Palmieri said she was also upset by some of the tactics she saw from political professionals on both sides, still on the verge of losing an election.
She believes democracy was given a second chance in the early months of the Biden administration when it could easily have gone the other way.
“I feel like this is the biggest question that looms over not only the series but the Biden presidency,” she said. “Is this an interlude going at a time … when the rules of democracy continue to erode, or is this the start of rebuilding democratic infrastructure, and I mean little ‘d’, and revitalization?” of democracy? “