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Love is a “Battleground”: A Talk with JD Walsh, Creator of Hulu’s First Scripted Original Series

February 14th, 2012 by Ben Collins Editor

You know when a musician or an artist or an athlete is so very into it the whole thing kind of seeps off him or her at all times like bad perfume?

Bruce Springsteen’s got this, and so did Michael Jordan, and so did the end of the movie “Taxi Driver.” You walk away thinking, “Man, there’s no way this guy was going to allow himself to mess this one up.”

And, sure, kids probably have this mentality when they try parkour without practicing, or when they ask a girl out who is way out of their respective leagues.

But Battleground creator JD Walsh is definitely oozing that I will make this work aura right now. And it feels a lot more like The Boss or MJ than first-time parkour.

Here’s the deal: He loves politics. He’s an actor (you’ll see him kicking around all of those “Two and a Half Men” episodes you see on late at night), but worked John Kerry’s campaign in 2004. He loves Madison, Wisconsin. He creates a workplace drama there—about politics, sort of, but mostly about people and relationships and wearing peacoats while you grow up and fall in love—and he pitches it around. It’s got his heart deeply entrenched in the middle of it, so we here at Hulu picked it up, even though we haven’t done something like this before.

Battleground‘s our first original scripted series, and we’re damn proud of it, because it’s a guy’s whole soul in dramedy form. It’ll be slowly expelled for everyone to see, weekly on our website.

Today’s the first day you can check it out. (There’ll be a new episode on Hulu every Tuesday.) It follows a guy named Tak around as he navigates a relationship and being too good at his job and taming a wolfpack of kids who want to help a state senator win an election. There are others, but we don’t want to ruin it. You’ll like them all.

Well, we liked them all. And they’re all from JD’s head. So we decided to talk to him about it on the phone yesterday as he was waiting for the show to launch.

On finally getting the show off the ground:

JD Walsh: I’m excited. I’ve found that throughout this process that people use excited to mean terrified. So when I hear, “We’re excited about the launch,” All I hear is, “Are you terrified about the launch?” But, yes, definitely, I’m glad people are gonna get to see it, finally.

It’s about campaign workers that spend their lives that go from election to election, this time they’re trying to win a state senate election.

On storytelling.

Let me tell you my theory about storytelling. If you look at the poster for a movie like “Transformers,” it’s a giant Transformer that’s facing a giant Transformer. In the middle is this tiny couple. You see this huge obstacle. There are giant stakes. But you’re seeing it through the lens of these people’s relationships. That’s what we tried to do with Battleground. It has very high stakes. National implications. Yet, really, it’s also about the relationship of the people that work in that office. Just like the relationships we have in our own offices—ones that we can relate to our own.

We wanted to build different generations of people in campaigns. People who have been around it 30 years, 40 years. We wanted to see the campaigns through the eyes of the volunteers, the characters.

On building immediate chemistry out of thin air.

What we wanted to do was jump in on the campaign—get in on it where the train was already going full-speed. There’s one character (Ben, the new volunteer) that was jumping on the train with the audience, finding his way when these relationships were already fully formed. What his experience was—that was supposed to mirror our experience.

On why “Battleground” isn’t “Parks & Recreation,” and why that can be kind of great.

I think that our show is going less for laughs. They want the show to intentionally be funny at all times. We wanted to have this reality. I mean, yeah, there are definitely times where you’re going to laugh in this show. But we wanted the show to live in the world with human interaction and give it its own reality. We just wanted it to be real as possible. That’s more important to us.

But what about people who hate politics?

I think people hate politics, but they love campaigns. What we’re interested in is the people behind the candidates. People spend their lives working behind the scenes, manipulating media. A lot of people don’t see that. And their relationships and their families are created this way.

About weaving actual political storylines into the arc.

I want there to be some elements, but I don’t want there to be candidates named, like, “Mitch Romney,” or something like that. We have elements of reality where Obama is president. But I want it to live in its own world.

On Alison Haislip’s character Ali, who plays a wise-assed social media wrangler.

I have friends who are like Alison in real life who are attractive women, wrapped up into this Comic Con world who sort of have dual lives. Well, there’s one (similar person) in real life, and there’s another in the book “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. It has this female protagonist (named Y.T.) who has to remain tough in this situation with a lot of her life on the line.

That part—Alison’s part—was written for a guy, actually. In the middle of auditions. We thought “What if this character was female?” We started seeing females. And then we saw Alison, and she kicked the shit out of it.

About other literary or political allusions elsewhere

The dynamic between Tak and KJ, I thought of that as David Addison and Maddie Hayes in, “Moonlighting.” I wanted the candidate’s husband to be a weasly Dick Morris-type. He’s this pollster and he’s a Republican. He doesn’t appear to have a soul I was kind of interested in that character.

And I sort of thought of a young George Stephanopoulos as an archetype for Tak. I don’t think that George Stephanopoulos has the same vices as Tak does, but in those times he was in the Clinton administration, you can see some of Tak in him.

Why Hulu?

It’s easy to spell.

But, really, why Hulu?

Really, me and my producers connected with the people there. They were on the search for content that could be great but didn’t fit in the traditional tubes that the networks have created. So we felt like it was a perfect fit. And we’ve been given tremendous freedom. It’s rare in this industry.

On getting “network notes” or revisions or other things that usually doom or plague great shows.

We did get notes, but they were always an attempt—not to satisfy a demographic or a fad or a meme—but instead the notes were to make the show smarter or funnier or more interesting with its storytelling storytelling.

The show is better because of the relationship we have with (Hulu’s) Charlotte (Koh) and Andy (Forssell). The show will live or die on my point of view on TV or what the tone of the show is. that’s a testament to the trust that Hulu gives its creators to make the show that they believe in. And that’s is why we’re doing it here.

On straight up believing in it.

Let me just say this: I would watch this show. That’s all you can do. You only have your own compass. You might as well tell a story that your personal compass points you towards.

Last comment: Apr 18th 2012 1 Comment
  • Meg says:

    I really love Battleground. It’s been awhile since I’ve been so hooked on a show. It probably doesn’t mean much coming from one person, but I hope you call this experiment a success. I’ve been telling as many people as I can about it. Good script. Well acted.