When told that his Hulu series “Battleground” was “pioneering,” show creator JD Walsh laughs.
“When you say ‘pioneering,’ do you mean like the Donner Party?” Walsh joked. “It went West, but it didn’t make it?”
Before “Stranger Things,” before “The Handmaid’s Tale,” before hundreds of shows that made sites like Hulu and Netflix destination viewing for millions of viewers, Walsh’s series “Battleground” got there first. It was Hulu’s first scripted show and one of the first streaming-only shows anywhere.
The show, a political-minded comedy-drama following a Democratic operative working for a U.S. Senate candidate in Wisconsin, was filmed in and around Walsh’s hometown of Madison, and was executive produced by fellow Madison native Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”). Despite good reviews and a loyal fan base, Hulu cancelled it after one season.
Now Walsh and “Battleground” are pioneers in a different way. The streaming TV show is now an audio podcast, with the first three episodes available for download on iTunes. The second season of “Battleground” reunites the original cast, now playing political operatives involved in the New Hampshire presidential primaries.
When Hulu pulled the plug on the TV show, Walsh had already completed the scripts for all of Season 2. As he watched the world of podcasts grow and grow with shows like “Serial” and “S-Town,” he noticed that most of the big ones like “Serial” and “S-Town” were nonfiction.
“There hasn’t been really a big fictional podcast,” Walsh said. “I started to think, ‘What if I took these scripts and I adjusted them to have a little more of a nonfiction vibe? What are the costs of that? It doesn’t seem like that much.’”
Walsh contacted the original cast members, who had all moved on to other projects but were excited by the idea of recording new episodes together.
“That was the best feeling, getting those people in that room together,” Walsh said. “Who knows what’s going to happen with it? So far the reaction has been overwhelming. (It was rewarding) just to do something, create something, bring those people back that I love, and then give something back to those people who have asked for a second season over the years.”
While American politics seems to have changed radically since the scripts were written four years ago, Walsh said he resisted the temptation to update the politics in the new episodes. However, there are some plot lines that presage the era of President Donald Trump.
“There is a little bit of a through line that resonates to what we’re dealing with now,” Walsh said. “The concerns that we had in politics in 2017 are much different than 2013. But fortunately there was already sort of a through line that was dealing with the fracturing of the Republican Party and what it meant to be far right versus center right.”
One of the fun parts of watching “Battleground” for local viewers was the chance to see Madison landmarks on screen. Even though the new podcast is set in New Hampshire, Madison listeners will get a similar sense of déjà vu.
“I just took the names of people and places that I knew in Madison and moved them to New Hampshire,” Walsh said. “So there’ll be a lot of moments where you’ll be like, ‘Wait a minute, they have a Mickies Dairy Bar in New Hampshire?’”
Walsh is planning to release the next three episodes after the New Year. To fund further episodes, Walsh is setting up a GoFundMe site for fans to donate, offering rewards ranging from getting a character named after them on the show to sitting in on a recording session.
“My hope is that we make just enough that we can keep creating these things. Or maybe I create another podcast as a sister podcast. As a content creator, it’s been nice to write, hear it, edit it and get it out to the people."