If the line between the personal and public lives of politicians is blurred, as fictional political columnist Susan Berg states in a video interview on the The Washington Globe website, so too is the line between fiction and reality in Political Animals, a six-part limited run series airing on USA Networks. Not-so-loosely based on the lives of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the show follows Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver), a former First Lady turned Secretary of State, as she works to establish her own political career in the wake of her husband’s reign–and litany of sex scandals.
But the uncanny bearing on real life doesn’t stop there. A companion website for the fictional national newspaper The Washington Globe augments the show’s world and provides deeper insight and analysis in an entirely believable way. Featuring all the regular sections you’d expect in a national paper–including lifestyle and style sections, op-eds, interviews, political cartoons, Instagram and Tumblr accounts, video blogs, and W, a feature magazine–the site offers an in-depth experience to satisfy the appetite of fans between episodes.
Created by New York-based agency Campfire, the content is a mix of weekly updates that reference plot points from the preceding week’s episode, and evergreen content in the magazine that provide back story.
“What we’re giving people is a transmedia experience that takes the story and distributes it across a lot of different platforms,” says Campfire Partner/Creative Director Steve Coulson, noting that the idea for the faux-newspaper came directly from the show’s journalist character Susan Berg.
The caliber of content on The Washington Globe is surprising given it’s to support a six-episode show. In-depth feature articles uncover the legacy of former ladyhawk prez Bud Hammond and the Vegas showgirl past of Barrish’s mother. A feature interview with journalist Berg reveals the sordid details of Hammond’s scandalous past. A Political Animals version of the famed cartoon strip Shoe is included, as are a series of historical WG covers from award-winning illustrator Steve Bodner, who’s real-life credits include The New Yorker and Harper’s. An Instagram feed of the goings-on of current president Paul Garcetti give glimpses into the chamber of power. And the series In Conversation With… will roll out high-quality video interviews with Berg, Barrish, Bud Hammond and the Hammond brothers, which were directed by Phil Griffin of @radical.media. The newspaper website is even built with cutting edge responsive design, which Coulson says was recently implemented by The Washington Post.
Coulson says that what makes this experience so authentic is the early collaboration with the show’s creators. “We’ve had a lot of participation from the cast and the show runners. I think they really see this as an extension of their story, as opposed to just marketing,” he says, adding, “We were helped by the fact that this thing was in production until recently.” In fact, the last episode was being filmed mere weeks before its premiere.
“Sometimes Campfire gets brought in after something is in the can and we work with marketing departments, and marketing is typically a post-production facility, if you like. You get something in the can and while it’s being edited you start thinking about the marketing of the show,” says Coulson. “In this case, it’s not so much marketing as really a transmedia extension of the story. It was great to have cast on set to do exclusive video just for this.
With access to cast and support of the creators, the hardest part was not smoothly integrating the storyline into an online medium. Rather, it was the feat of essentially creating a nearly full-scale national-caliber media outlet. “It was like creating a real newspaper and we acted like a real newspaper,” Coulson says. “It’s a challenge to not only develop all that content to a high level, but we’ve pulled it together in a really short time.”