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The presidential campaign is becoming an actual reality show

Saying that the 2016 presidential campaign is becoming a reality show doesn’t seem like news, it just seems like an obvious metaphor, and not just because that blowhard from The Apprentice is now a credible candidate.

But starting in January, Showtime will actually turn the campaign into an actual reality series: a weekly, real-time documentary series following the campaign, which already has more drama and bigotry than many reality shows. The new show is appropriately titled The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show On Earth.

The network promises “intimate, behind-the-scenes access” that “will offer viewers a look at what the public rarely sees and explore the high human drama inherent in the pursuit of the Oval Office.” However, it has not yet named which campaigns or individuals will be followed for the weekly half-hour episodes.

Showtime’s president, David Nevins, told CNN Money reiterated that, calling the “a real time vérité documentary,” and added, “Nobody else is doing this kind of coverage.” He said he’s been “very interested in trying to use new documentary technology—small cameras, very fast post production—for a subject beyond the world of sports.” He also said, “I loved ‘The War Room’ and the Romney documentary. But it’s no longer necessary to wait until year after the election to get an all-access documentary.”

Halperin and Nevins have a long history. They have known each other since high school. He, Heilemann and McKinnon brought the show idea to Showtime.

As it so happened, Nevins has been “very interested in trying to use new documentary technology — small cameras, very fast post production — for a subject beyond the world of sports,” he said. “Politics was an obvious choice.”

The show will be produced by Left/Right, which produced Showtime’s 3AM and This American Life. Showtime is working with Bloomberg Politics, whose managing editors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann will be featured in the series along with Mark McKinnon.

In a press release, Showtime President David Nevins said,

“Americans are captivated by the 2016 presidential election, and a real-time political series of this nature has never been done before. People don’t want to wait a year to see how and why things played out and the impact they had. Everything today is immediate, so there’s no better time to change the way American politics are covered. Mark and John are the pre-eminent chroniclers of the presidential scene with their deeply influential books, and I’m thrilled that, along with Mark McKinnon, they will bring their years of expertise and the pedigree of Bloomberg Politics to Showtime in a truly dynamic and innovative way with The Circus.”

On paper, this sounds like an exceptional idea. Can it flesh out and humanize stories that are usually reduced to tweet-length hyperbole? Can a series be fast and reflective? Will chronicling the campaigns with behind-the-scenes access affect campaigns with what they reveal? I’m excited to find out.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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