The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth

The Circus is a 2016 television documentary series following the 2016 presidential race[1][2] and the Trump administration. It is produced by Left/Right Productions, a Red Arrow Studios company, for Showtime.[3]

The Circus
The Circus - Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth poster.jpg
Presented by
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons5
No. of episodes73
Running time28–30 minutes
Production company(s)Left/Right Productions
DistributorShowtime Networks
Original networkShowtime
Original releaseJanuary 17, 2016 (2016-01-17) –
present (present)
External links

The docu-series premiered on January 17, 2016, and focused on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, January to November. It was renewed for a second season, which premiered on March 19, 2017, and focused on President Trump's first 100 days.[4] It returned on April 15, 2018 for a third season, and focused on the mid-term elections, with CBS News anchor Alex Wagner stepping in as co-host to replace Mark Halperin, who was replaced on January 3, 2018,[5][6] by the show, after sexual harassment allegations.[7][8][9][5][6]

On December 11, 2019, it was announced that the first half of the fifth season premiered on January 26, 2020.[10] On June 22, 2020, it was reported that the second half of the fifth season is set to premiere August 16, 2020.[11]


The Circus received generally positive reviews from critics. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it has a rating of 70%, based on 10 reviews, with an average rating of 8/10. The consensus reads: "The Circus reveals a more human side of the candidates and paints a clear picture of how grueling life can be on the campaign trail, yet the show fails to provide the type of candid analysis and discourse it alludes to during this incredibly unique and cantankerous election cycle."[12] On Metacritic, the series has a score of 75 out of 100, based on 5 reviews, indicating "Generally favorable reviews".[13]


SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
126January 17, 2016 (2016-01-17)November 13, 2016 (2016-11-13)
28March 19, 2017 (2017-03-19)May 7, 2017 (2017-05-07)
315April 15, 2018 (2018-04-15)November 11, 2018 (2018-11-11)
416January 27, 2019 (2019-01-27)November 10, 2019 (2019-11-10)
5TBAJanuary 26, 2020 (2020-01-26)[14]TBA

Season 1: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth (2016)Edit

No. in
TitleOriginal air date
11"The Outsiders"January 17, 2016 (2016-01-17)
The campaigns of three "outsiders" – Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – are given behind-the-scenes attention on the road to the Iowa caucus.
22"Prisoner's Dilema"January 24, 2016 (2016-01-24)
The second episode follows Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. John Kasich as they prepare for the all-important, first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.
33"Tension City"January 31, 2016 (2016-01-31)
This episode follows the angst and drama leading up to the Iowa caucuses, with a showdown brewing between Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and the GOP's first real test of outsider candidates versus the establishment.
44"The Big Mo"February 7, 2016 (2016-02-07)
The fourth episode goes inside the Iowa fallout and the momentum leading into New Hampshire's primary. Who's got it? Who doesn't? And how can the Clinton and Trump campaigns pick up the pace to beat back the surge of Sanders and Cruz?
55"The Winnowing"February 14, 2016 (2016-02-14)
From the electric jolt of New Hampshire to the hard truths coming up in South Carolina and Nevada. Trump tastes victory, Kasich picks up momentum – and Bush faces the prospect of an impending do-or-die reality.
66"Fear and Loathing"February 21, 2016 (2016-02-21)
As the campaigns head towards the final stretch leading to Nevada and South Carolina, there's growing anxiety among both frontrunners and stragglers about just how high the stakes are – and the significance of falling behind.
77"Confidence Game"February 28, 2016 (2016-02-28)
With the field narrowed down to The Big Five, the campaigns spread their game across the country and play to their strengths – with eyes squarely focused on the all-important upcoming prize: Super Tuesday.
88"The Reckoning"March 6, 2016 (2016-03-06)
With big wins for the frontrunners on Super Tuesday the rest of candidates are reckoning with the results. But the biggest story of all might be one both Democratic and Republican establishments can agree on: how do they stop Trump?
99"Dead or Alive"March 13, 2016 (2016-03-13)
It's make or break time for Rubio, Kasich and Sanders. As the candidates pin their hopes on Florida and Ohio, can they gather enough momentum to force a brokered convention – or will their campaigns finally run out of steam?
1010"High Hopes"March 20, 2016 (2016-03-20)
While Rubio gets trumped in Florida, the rest of the candidates remain cautiously optimistic. But are high hopes what they need to pull off a win and secure the nomination – or are they just delusional?
1111"Home and Abroad"March 27, 2016 (2016-03-27)
Foreign policy comes to the fore as the political climate grows fiery in the wake of the attacks in Brussels. As Trump and Clinton prepare to square off, can either of them prove their presidential mettle in handling the heat?
1212"On, Wisconsin"April 3, 2016 (2016-04-03)
Ahead of a Wisconsin showdown the candidates crisscross the state in pursuit of competing agendas. Can Kasich, Cruz or Sanders secure their position as spoilers – or will Clinton and Trump finally be crowned their party's Big Cheese?
1313"Recap"April 10, 2016 (2016-04-10)
From the early primary battles to the Super Tuesday showdown and beyond, pull back the curtain on the 2016 presidential race with Mark Halperin, John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon – and catch up on the electrifying first twelve weeks.
1414"Game On"July 10, 2016 (2016-07-10)
While the nation celebrates July 4th, Trump and Clinton engage in their own fireworks. With the reemergence of Clinton's email scandal and Trump's latest faux pas, the titans go on the attack to take each other down.
1515"Veepstakes"July 17, 2016 (2016-07-17)
No president is complete without a veep. As Trump auditions Chris Christie, Mike Pence and Newt Gingrich and Clinton considers Tim Kaine, can the candidates find the right-hand man for the job who will make, not break, their campaign?
1616"Trump Show"July 24, 2016 (2016-07-24)
The political circus goes into overdrive as Trump is crowned the Republican nominee – and Melania, controversially, speaks! Capitalizing on his children to help humanize his image, can Trump plus Pence finally rally a unified party?
1717"In the Arena"July 31, 2016 (2016-07-31)
The jeers and boos of Sanders diehards ring out in Philadelphia, before the Democrats at last make Hillary a historic nominee. But is shattering a glass ceiling enough for Clinton and Kaine to unite the party into a winning coalition?
1818"Closing the Gap"September 11, 2016 (2016-09-11)
With ten weeks to go until the election the Trump campaign finds itself running from behind. As members of his party start to publicly jump ship, can Trump find a way to close the gap with Clinton or will he just fall further behind?
1919"Fit to Serve"September 18, 2016 (2016-09-18)
With revelations of Clinton's pneumonia and scrutiny surrounding Trump's medical records, the question of their fitness to lead takes a physical turn. As both campaigns try to punt the issue can the seconds-in-command handle the heat?
2020"Battleground"September 25, 2016 (2016-09-25)
As Clinton and Trump prepare for the first of their debates, the campaigns target a handful of states that could swing the election. But in the must-win battleground of Florida can either candidate work out a path to gaining the edge?
2121"The Newsrooms"October 2, 2016 (2016-10-02)
From debate prep to the big night and the flap that follows over Alicia Machado, the script gets flipped as the candidates cede the spotlight to an inside peek into the days and nights of the people who broadcast the news and cover the political sphere.
2222"Tale of the Tape"October 16, 2016 (2016-10-16)
Tracking the fallout from the second debate and the scandal surrounding a now-infamous audio tape, could this be the final nail in Trump's campaign coffin - or can he pull off a surprise October Surprise to rally yet another comeback?
2323"From Russia With Love"October 23, 2016 (2016-10-23)
Amid claims of foreign intervention, international espionage and widespread hacking, Clinton faces what might turn out to be her toughest opponent to date: WikiLeaks, and the trove of highly sensitive, private emails it's made public.
2424"His Word as a Biden"October 30, 2016 (2016-10-30)
The final two-week push going into the election sees the full weight of the White House come out in force for Clinton's campaign, including one man who has the potential to swing those states still up for grabs: Joe Biden.
2525"Nobody F***ing Knows"November 6, 2016 (2016-11-06)
Clinton in Arizona? Trump in Washington? As different polls predict differing outcomes both campaigns make a case in far-fetched battlegrounds. In a race that's either up for grabs or already decided, hope, it seems, springs eternal.
2626"President Trump"November 13, 2016 (2016-11-13)
In a special hour-long episode of the real-time documentary series, Mark Halperin, John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon go behind the scenes of both campaigns in the lead up to Election Day - and the fallout that followed.

Season 2: Inside the Biggest Story on Earth (2017)Edit

No. in
TitleOriginal air date
271"Shocking But Not Surprising"March 19, 2017 (2017-03-19)
Mark Halperin takes a ride on Air Force One with President Donald Trump. We look at the debate surrounding the healthcare bill and hear from both sides, including Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul and the White House.
282"Checking and Balancing"March 26, 2017 (2017-03-26)
Mark Halperin talks with Senator Patrick Leahy about Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination, Congressman Adam Schiff weighs in on Trump's alleged ties to Russia and Joe Biden enters the fray surrounding the healthcare bill.
293"How's He Doing?"April 2, 2017 (2017-04-02)
What do people outside the Beltway really think about President Trump? Mark Halperin takes a trip through America to find the answers. Then he heads to New Orleans to discuss his surprising findings with Mary Matalin.
304"The Whole World Is Watching"April 9, 2017 (2017-04-09)
What in the world is going on? This week is all about foreign policy: President Trump's military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and its impact on his ongoing delicate dance with Russia.
315"Recess Reset"April 16, 2017 (2017-04-16)
Congress may be in recess but Mark Halperin is on the job, covering the White House and the Syria fallout. John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon hit the road to see what Americans think about how President Trump is handling the situation.
326"The Resistance"April 23, 2017 (2017-04-23)
How are the Democrats resisting Trump? Mark Halperin talks to Elizabeth Warren about standing strong. Bernie Sanders tells John Heilemann about taking his message to the people. Americans talk about what resistance means to them.
337"Learning Curve"April 30, 2017 (2017-04-30)
What has President Trump learned from his first 100 days in office? As Congress reconvenes, Mark McKinnon and John Heilemann head to Capitol Hill to find out. Mark Halperin is in New York City to get Wall Street's perspective.
348"Looking Back and Moving On"May 7, 2017 (2017-05-07)
Washington insiders join John Heilemann, Mark Halperin and Mark McKinnon for a look at some of the thrilling, amazing and logic defying acts performed during President Trump's first 100 days.

Season 3: Inside the Wildest Political Show on Earth (2018)Edit

No. in
TitleOriginal air date
351"The Looking Glass War"April 15, 2018 (2018-04-15)
The United States and Russia are locked in a dangerous new standoff. From Facebook and meddling in the 2016 election, to alleged poisoning attacks, to the war in Syria, Russia is the dominant force in our news cycle. John Heilemann, Mark McKinnon and new host Alex Wagner examine America's new Cold War with Russia and where it's leading.
362"Too Many Lawyers"April 22, 2018 (2018-04-22)
An ever-growing swirl of legal entanglements continues to surround President Trump. From the ongoing Mueller investigation to the Michael Cohen raid and subsequent hearing, and James Comey's inflammatory book, the Trump presidency is under siege. John Heillman interviews Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, John and Alex Wagner have a colorful dialog with legal heavyweight and Trump supporter Alan Dershowitz, and Mark McKinnon sits down with former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates.
373"Man of the World"April 29, 2018 (2018-04-29)
As Mike Pompeo's nomination for Secretary of State clears a Senate hurdle, official visits from French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel command the administration's attention. John Heilemann and Mark McKinnon sit down with Wendy Sherman, lead negotiator behind the Iran nuclear deal. Plus, Alex Wagner interviews imam Dr. Ismail Elshikh, the plaintiff behind the travel-ban challenge.
384"Trump Country"May 6, 2018 (2018-05-06)
The Circus goes on the road to Trump country to take the nation's temperature on the president's performance, how the midterm elections are shaping up, and where the two sides currently stand on gun control. John Heilemann catches up with Mitt Romney about his Utah senate campaign, Mark McKinnon interviews Randy "Iron Stache" Bryce in Wisconsin about his bid to turn Paul Ryan's district Democratic, and Alex Wagner travels to Texas for a sit-down with Beto O'Rourke on his surprisingly close race to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
395"War and Peace"May 13, 2018 (2018-05-13)
The gloves are off as Donald Trump fights a 360-degree battle to keep the presidency. He's taking shots at those who stand to threaten it, and is at war against the "deep state" of the FBI, CIA, and the Department of Justice. Stories covered include Michael Cohen's connection to a Russian oligarch, Trump's attempts to undermine the Mueller investigation, the scuttling of the Iran deal, and the Senate confirmation hearing for Trump's controversial CIA Director pick, Gina Haspel.
406"Their Brand Is Crisis"May 20, 2018 (2018-05-20)
The Trump administration has had to contend with an unprecedented number of crises, and spinning them is an ongoing preoccupation. In this era of splintered news media, how do you get the right message to the right people, and still stay on course? Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie discusses trying to govern during a PR crisis, Steve Brill hosts an Axios event on combating fake news, and Steve Schmidt and Mark Fabiani, Bill Clinton's advisor during the Whitewater scandal, both weigh in on how this White House is managing crises.
417"The Gathering Storm"September 16, 2018 (2018-09-16)
With the looming midterm elections, the Trump presidency under siege, and Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolina coast, Washington has a lot on its collective plate.
428"Burden of Proof"September 23, 2018 (2018-09-23)
As Republicans and Democrats play a dramatic game of chess in the wake of the assault allegations from Christine Blasey Ford, all eyes are on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Parallels are drawn between the current showdown and the Anita Hill hearing in 1991, and recurring contributor Steve Schmidt gives context to the Trump administration's response, given his experience working to confirm Supreme Court nominees for previous Republican administrations.
439"Judgment Day"September 30, 2018 (2018-09-30)
The focus remains tightly on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the future of U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein notwithstanding. As legions of outspoken critics and fans of Judge Kavanaugh vie for attention on Capitol Hill, and allegations of sexual misconduct continue to surface, the temperature in the capital climbs steadily upward. For much of the week John Heilemann is embedded with attorney Michael Avenatti, who may just have the most explosive revelations of all.
4410"The Verdict"October 7, 2018 (2018-10-07)
The emphasis remains squarely on the constantly-evolving story of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. But as the midterm elections draw nearer, hosts John Heilemann, Mark McKinnon, Alex Wagner and guest commentator Steve Schmidt delve into the ramifications of the confirmation's outcome on various Senate races around the country. Republicans and Democrats are riled up about this issue, and in states where the polls are close, Senate races could be affected by how the incumbents vote.
4511"California Dreaming"October 14, 2018 (2018-10-14)
In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation, The Circus travels to California to take the temperature of the political and policy resistance to the Trump administration. With almost a dozen house seats currently held by Republicans in serious contention, any potential blue wave in the midterm elections will begin here. The hosts interview key players from across the political spectrum to determine the current state of California politics, how they got where they are, and where they are headed.
4612"Senatorial Combat"October 21, 2018 (2018-10-21)
As the battle for the Senate heats up with post-Kavanaugh polls forecasting a Republican resurgence, The Circus travels the country charting the shifting dynamics in three of the closest races - each considered a must-win if Democrats hope to gain the majority. In Arizona, it's neck and neck between Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally; in Nevada, Jacky Rosen digs deep to take on incumbent Dean Heller; plus, a sit-down with North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, who's fighting for her political life in the wake of a campaign ad controversy.
4713"Black and White"October 28, 2018 (2018-10-28)
As undertones of racial politics make news, The Circus travels south, following two historic gubernatorial races with African-American candidates. In Florida, America's most unpredictable swing state, Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis reap the benefits and face the challenges of being respectively progressive and pro-Trump candidates. Next door in Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams find themselves locked in a virtual dead heat despite being on opposite ends of a statewide voting controversy.
4814"A Place Called Fear"November 4, 2018 (2018-11-04)
Donald Trump has hit the campaign trail in a big way to aid Republicans in their election efforts, and he is painting frightening pictures to motivate his base. In response, prominent Democrats are issuing dire warnings of what will happen if their party doesn't retake at least some control. With the midterm elections only days away, The Circus travels to rallies and campaign stops around the country to find out how both sides are pulling out all the stops to win these all-important races.
4915"Mother(F***er) of All Midterms"November 11, 2018 (2018-11-11)
This special one-hour finale is all about the midterms: before, during and after. In the run-up to election day, The Circus visits some of the high-profile campaigns to catch their final pushes. On election day, we're backstage and on set at The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where John Heilemann and Alex Wagner are guests as the results are coming in. Then we cover the fallout of the historic election, from Trump's reaction to the surprising changes to the political landscape in Washington and beyond.

Season 4: Inside the Wildest Political Show on Earth (2019)Edit

No. in
TitleOriginal air date
501"New World Disorder"January 27, 2019 (2019-01-27)
512"Circling Vultures"February 3, 2019 (2019-02-03)
523"The State of Our Union Is…"February 10, 2019 (2019-02-10)
534"2020 Is Here"February 17, 2019 (2019-02-17)
545"States of Emergency"February 24, 2019 (2019-02-24)
556"The Big Split"March 3, 2019 (2019-03-03)
567"To the Left"March 10, 2019 (2019-03-10)
578"What the F... Happens Next?"March 17, 2019 (2019-03-17)
589"The People on That Stage"September 22, 2019 (2019-09-22)
5910"Across the Rubicon"September 29, 2019 (2019-09-29)
6011"Impeachmentland"October 6, 2019 (2019-10-06)
6112"Desperate Times, Desperate Measures"October 13, 2019 (2019-10-13)
6213"The Widening Gyre"October 20, 2019 (2019-10-20)
6314"The Deep State"October 27, 2019 (2019-10-27)
6415"Field of Dreams"November 3, 2019 (2019-11-03)
6516"Here Be Dragons"November 10, 2019 (2019-11-10)

Season 5: The Circus: Inside the Craziest Political Campaign on Earth (2020)Edit

No. in
TitleOriginal air date [14]
661"Obligations and Opportunities"January 26, 2020 (2020-01-26)
672"Closing Arguments"February 2, 2020 (2020-02-02)
683"Clusterf**k"February 9, 2020 (2020-02-09)
694"Unfinished Business"February 16, 2020 (2020-02-16)
705"What Happens in Vegas"February 23, 2020 (2020-02-23)
716"On the Boil"March 1, 2020 (2020-03-01)
727"Super Duper Tuesday"March 8, 2020 (2020-03-08)
738"The Cruelest Month"March 15, 2020 (2020-03-15)


  1. ^ "'The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. 2016-01-18. Retrieved 2016-05-23.
  2. ^ Lowry, Brian (2016-01-17). "'The Circus' Chronicles 2016 Presidential Campaign on Showtime". Variety. Retrieved 2016-05-23.
  3. ^ "Showtime : The Circus : Home". Showtime. 2015-07-07. Retrieved 2016-05-23.
  4. ^ Schwindt, Oriana (2017-02-27). "'The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth' Gets Second Batch at Showtime". Variety. Retrieved 2017-03-03.
  5. ^ a b "Showtime's 'The Circus' Will Go On Without Mark Halperin". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b Evans, Greg (3 August 2018). "Showtime's 'The Circus' Sets Fall Premiere Date In Time For Midterm Elections". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 15 October 2018.
  7. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (2018-01-03). "Showtime Renews 'The Circus,' Alex Wagner Joins as Co-Host". Variety. Retrieved 2018-01-07.
  8. ^ Moraes, Lisa de (30 October 2017). "NBC News Terminates Mark Halperin's Contract". Deadline Hollywood.
  9. ^ "Journalist sacked over alleged harassment". BBC News. 30 October 2017.
  10. ^ ""The Circus" Returns to Showtime(R) in January Ahead of the Crucial Iowa Democratic Caucuses". The Futon Critic. December 11, 2019.
  11. ^ Pedersen, Erik (June 22, 2020). "'The Circus' Coming Back To Town In August On Showtime". Deadline Hollywood.
  12. ^ "The Circus: Inside The Greatest Political Show on Earth: Miniseries". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  13. ^ "The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth - Season 1 Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  14. ^ a b "The Circus – Listings". The Futon Critic. Retrieved January 19, 2020.