‘The Circle’ Boss on Connecting ‘People Who Otherwise Might Not Have Come Into Contact With Each Other’ — and Catfishing
Reality shows such as MTV’s “The Real World” and CBS’ “Big Brother” have boasted about being social experiments where strangers are shoved into the same house and forced to live with each other 24/7. They are known for delivering a lot of literal in-your-face drama, as the close quarters and high-intensity of differing opinions, let alone additional game elements (at least in the latter) press on people’s stress points. But “The Circle” does the opposite: It takes strangers and isolates them in their own individual spaces, allowing them only to communicate through a special social media app for the show. They can get real with each other through words and emojis and uploaded images — or they can choose to play as a totally different persona.
“What I really love about the format is the comedy it can give you — and the comedy comes from people saying one thing publicly and another privately. I’m a really big fan of stuff that is comedic first and dramatic second,” executive producer Tim Harcourt tells Variety.
“The Circle” began as a U.K. series from Studio Lambert and Motion Content Group but was picked up by Netflix for three new formats: American, Brazilian and French. The American one is the first out of the gate, and in putting it together, Harcourt didn’t want to assume the audience had seen the original. Therefore, he felt it was “good to keep it relatively simple” when it came to the games-within-the-game and the pacing of contestants developing friendships before eventually booting them out — only to meet new contestants in their place.
“It was a high concept, and we didn’t want to confuse people. But there are lots of twists and turns we can now do going forward.”
The series first started in the U.K., premiering its inaugural season in Sept. 2018. It featured a total of 15 contestants over the course of the 18 episodes. These contestants lived in individual flats (it was a British show first, after all) and only communicated via a specially-designed social media app that allowed them to upload select images and videos at specific times, as well as message each other privately or in group chat settings. Since these contestants couldn’t see each other, they could choose to enter the app as themselves, or catfish the group.
The contestants are tasked with rating each other at various points, with the top rated ones becoming influencers and the others being put at risk of being blocked by the influencers. Once someone is blocked, they could choose one other contestant to visit face-to-face before leaving the show.
“The gameplay naturally forces them to remove each other from the game, so the format has enough in it to feature drama. In ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Survivor,’ there are also game elements that can [kick someone out] but this is just them, in their bubble, having to turn on each other,” Harcourt notes.
Netflix ordered the American adaptation of the show “off the back of the first season in the U.K.,” Harcourt recalls. But the U.K. version was also renewed, and the second season there launched in Sept. 2019 and ran 22 episodes over almost a month, concluding in Oct. 2019.
“The U.K. version runs in real time: We’re making it and turning it around in a 24-hour period. The audience is able to interact with elements of the game that don’t burst the bubble of the game, but adds extra factors in,” Harcourt says.
However, the American first season is 12 episodes, available in bingeable chunks over three weeks on Netflix, with the first batch of episodes dropping New Year’s Day and the subsequent ones coming Jan. 8 and Jan. 15.