'Pod Save America' Brings Straight Shooting Political Talk To HBO
By Darby Maloney with Marialexa Kavanaugh
In the wake of the 2016 election, many people reconsidered their relationship with politics. The hosts of the podcast Keepin' It 1600 said goodbye to their old show and launched a new media company, Crooked Media, with flagship pod Pod Save America. They're now home to 10 political podcasts.
The hosts are all former members of the Obama administration: speech writers Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer (strategist and director of communications), and Tommy Vietor (communications and national security).
Last week, Pod Save America went multiplatform with the first of four live shows on HBO. The Friday night specials continue up until just before midterm Election Day.
The live shows have been a big hit. Beyond the applause and the laughter, Lovett said that he thinks people want to be part of the community of people who listen to the show -- "Friends of the Pod," as the show calls their fans.
"One of the goals of the live show is to have the same honest conversation in front of people as we do when there's nobody there," Lovett told the Frame -- we spoke with him and fellow co-host Favreau.
Both hosts agreed that what drives Pod Save America is the feeling that Donald Trump's election was a national crisis. Based on their experience in media and politics, it was safe to conjecture that many Americans felt the same way they did.
"They felt as though the conversation around politics was very self-serious, without leaving you feeling like you not only understand what's going on, but know what to do with it," Lovett said. "At times when you're watching punditry, no matter what medium it's in, you feel like you're being talked to less like a frustrated participant and more like a cynical observer."
It's key that listeners feel like participants in the larger conversation, according to Lovett and Favreau. Transplanting their headquarters from D.C. to Los Angeles was a key part of making that shift. While social media rhetoric and mass media can create groupthink anywhere, D.C. is even more insular.
"I think anywhere outside of Washington gives you that perspective. Anywhere outside of Washington and New York," Favreau said. "I've been there, I've lived there for 10 years. You not only watch all the same media, watch all the same cable news programs, read all the same stuff, you also see all those people socially or through work."
While Pod Save America aims to be as relevant to the current political climate as possible, the whiteness and maleness of the show's four hosts (particularly at a time when the #MeToo conversation is louder than ever) makes for an elephant in the room.
Favreau stressed that he and his co-hosts are deeply aware of the diversity issue. They added Erin Ryan, a regular guest who hosts another show on the network and has co-hosted their live shows before, as a panelist on the first episode of their HBO show. They're continuing to work hard to book guests from different backgrounds -- Brittany Packnett guests on their second episode.
"Pod Save America started because the four of us were friends who got an opportunity to yell about politics on the microphone," Favreau said. "Someone gave us that opportunity. That's how it started. If we were starting from scratch, it probably would have been a more diverse group from the get-go."
While the show's achieved booming popularity to the point of getting a deal with HBO, Favreau and Lovett want to make it clear that they don't measure success in numbers. That's part of why they decided to leave their old show behind and focus on something that allowed them to be activists.
"More people involved in politics, more people voting, especially young people. More people paying attention to politics, not just around an election time but all-year-round. That to me is a measure of success," Favreau said.
The HBO series coincides with the launch of their new project, Vote Save America. The idea was born with the hosts' realization that there's no one-stop-shop for people to register to vote, find out if they're registered, find out what's on the ballot and what kind of volunteer options are available.
"With the help of our incredible team that has worked so hard on this -- turns out it didn't exist because it's incredibly hard -- but they built this resource called Vote Save America, where you can pledge ways to volunteer, find out what's on your ballot, see what's going on in your state -- it's all in one place," Lovett said.
You can watch Pod Save America live on HBO, Fridays at 11p.m., or online or through HBO's apps.
Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's the Frame.
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