A Political Comedy Series Filmed In Iowa

Oct 28, 2016

A year before the Iowa caucuses, hundreds of journalists come here to cover the many presidential candidates. This month, a Los Angeles crew is in Iowa filming six 30 minute episodes of a comedy television series about being a reporter during the campaign season.  “Embeds” centers around four young reporters covering a presidential candidate struggling to stay in the race.  

Peter Hamby and Scott Conroy created the show based on their reporting experiences. As Conroy works with the cast and crew in Iowa, he remembers what it was like to be here as a reporter covering the Romney campaign in 2008.

“It’s really just a total free for all. Anything can go,” says Conroy. “You can walk right up to the candidate as a reporter or just as a regular caucus goer, and sort of have free reign to just get in their face. And that makes for a lot of interesting moments on the real campaign trail and on our fake campaign trail, it makes for a lot of comedy too.”

A television crew and actors go through a scene rehearsal on a set outside a Des Moines middle school. This is for the new comedy Embeds, Go90 series about four young journalists covering a presidential candidate.
Credit John Pemble / IPR

The show also references non-Iowa experiences like a scene being filmed in a men’s bathroom.  It’s based on a event that happened in 2008, when journalists covering a Clinton stop in Texas were assigned to work in a men’s room.  For “Embeds,” the situation is replicated with small desks placed inches from urinals.  Actor Andre Kinney is in this scene playing one of the reporters with a bad hangover.

“It’s so over the top, but at the same time the core of it is so real,” says Kinney.  “I’m sure that any embeds that watch the show, or any journalist will say, 'oh, this is hilarious'. But yeah, there’s some truth to that.”

Four years ago, "Embeds" started as a spec script by Peter Hamby and Scott Conroy. That’s a script without the backing of producers. This summer, the new streaming service Go90 became interested. Go90 works a lot like Hulu or Netflix, and they’re trying to build an audience with original shows.

In September a writer’s room was assembled for Conroy and Hamby to work with others to create a total of six episodes to be shot in October. Executive producer Bryan Haas says this accelerated timeline to launch a new show isn’t normal.

“One of the things that made us kinda comfortable was the fact that Scott and Peter had been out on the road and had done it," says Haas. "We had talked about so many episode ideas and stories from the actual experiences on the trail so many times, that the basis of what was going to be the six episodes was already there.”

Embeds creator Scott Conroy watches a rehearsal for an outside scene being shot in Des Moines.
Credit John Pemble / IPR

For series co-creator and writer Scott Conroy, working on a television show or a movie is a new experience. “Usually, from what I’m told, there is a tremendous amount of network oversight,” says Conroy.  “Focus groups, a lot of second guessing of every minute detail, a lot of notes from the studio. We really don’t have any of that and so we’re able to do whatever we want for the most part.  So if the show is terrible then it’s entirely.. on us.”

There’s one more bit of pressure. Go90 wants to premiere the series by Election Day, barely more than a month from the first day of shooting.  For now, the cast and crew are traveling across the state filming in coffee houses, farms, a hotel, or anywhere a real presidential candidate has tried to connect with Iowans.

A bus for fictional presidential candidate John Dobson from the television show Embeds. It is used for scenes shot in Iowa, a state where numerous real presidential candidates have similar looking buses for the Iowa caucuses.
Credit John Pemble / IPR