Pod Save America is a twice-weekly homing device for anyone looking to channel their frustrations over the current political climate. So it was a no-brainer that HBO would want to create four live versions of the podcast – especially after the success of its similar endeavor with comedians Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson’s 2 Dope Queens.
Ahead of the specials’ debut this fall, the four guys behind Pod Save America—Barack Obama speechwriters Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett, senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer, and national security spokesperson Tommy Vietor—came together to answer questions about all things related to their podcast and political commentary at the Television Critics Association’s biannual press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif.
What will the format of these televised live shows be?
“This will be four episodes from various locations across the country that will air as one-hour specials on Friday nights,” Vietor says.
Was the team surprised at how successful the podcast has become?
Favreau says that Pod Save America has become an “on ramp” into politics for those who weren’t necessarily interested before Donald Trump was elected.
Vietor adds that “10 or 15 percent of the total audience is international.”
There’s more to the podcast (and subsequent live shows’) success than Donald Trump.
“We were pretty healthy media critics, specifically political journalism,” Favreau says of his time in the Obama administration. “What we wanted to do was build a media company that not only informed people on the basics of politics, but then gave them the opportunity to [make their own decisions].”
What can the White House press corps do better?
Vietor says to watch a video of BBC journalist Emily Maitlis eviscerating former White House spokesman Sean Spicer without fear of being blackballed from events and sources.
“To see her push him in a way that made it clear… it was all about holding him accountable,” Vietor says. “I realize how hard it is to be a journalist covering the White House… but I do think there’s a chumminess in D.C.”
Pfeiffer says he wishes “reporters would ask more policy-based questions of Trump.”
Provided we survive that long, how will the show change after Trump leaves office?
“A couple things will be different: I’ll go from six hours of sleep hopefully to a rested seven or eight,” jokes Lovett. He adds that, “under President Guy Fieri, there will still be need for political commentary.”
How do they avoid being depressed?
“We get to scream about politics for a living with our closest friends,” Vietor says. “At least this company and the show… gives us a chance to tell people what’s happening, vent about it, and then, hopefully, get them involved.”
Pfeiffer says that the combination of activism and cynicism in the country today is something they get to see through the podcast.
Will there be guests on the four episodes of the live HBO shows?
Vietor says they haven’t booked guests yet, but “we will have co-hosts with us, because we are very aware that having four white males who worked in the Obama administration does not reflect the Democratic party.”
They’ll also be traveling to areas that Democrats desperately need to win in the upcoming elections.
Do they think it’s more important to have the dialogue or more important to encourage people to vote Democratic?
“I think we can do both,” says Pfeiffer, adding “We want people to understand… sometimes you have to have a nuanced view at this point.”
What do the guys think of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime series, Who is America?
“Sacha Baron Cohen is doing a comedy show,” says Lovett. “I don’t think that’s part of our strategy for taking back the House…”
Vietor notes that “it’s valuable for people to know that there [is] a group people who are so shameless and so bought off by the NRA or other interest groups that they will say or do anything. I think exposing those people for the frauds that they are is a good thing.”
How will the guys handle endorsements? Especially when the 2020 presidential election comes closer?
“We’re still talking about this, [but] we will try our best to inform our listeners about whose policy positions we’re backing,” Favreau says. “That said, the reason the pod[cast] has worked for so long is because all four of us… are all very honest about who we like.”
How do they handle objectivity?
Favreau says that there’s no hiding that “we’re Obama people,” but that “we’re having an authentic conversation about politics when politics doesn’t seem very authentic.” He says their need to put out “factual information” makes them different from say, Fox News.
And Favreau has been on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, which does have guests with all points of view, despite Maher’s own political leanings.
“He’s been able to have Republicans and conservatives who don’t spin conspiracies and lies,” Favreau says. “But it works for him. I cannot imagine us doing something too similar.”
Would the guys endorse HBO putting ads for their shows on a site like Breitbart News?
“Hell no, we’d never give a dollar to Breitbart,” Vietor says. “They’re a horrible, disgusting organization that should not be funded.”
This isn’t Lovett’s first time at TCA. He also co-created the short-lived NBC sitcom 1600 Penn, which is about a fictional White House family.
“We made that show about a dysfunctional White House family that people thought didn’t seem believable because they were too zany,” he says. “In hindsight, I didn’t realize that it should’ve been a dark, moody HBO drama [with] corruption and Russian intrigue.”
Pod Save America premieres this fall on HBO.