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Alex Wagner replacing Mark Halperin on Showtime’s ‘The Circus’

Alex Wagner has been named a permanent host

Alex Wagner has been named a permanent host on Showtime's "The Circus." Credit: AP / Harry Pluviose

“The Circus” — Showtime’s current politics series that fired co-host Mark Halperin in the wake of sexual harassment charges stemming from his years at ABC News — will return for a third season starting April 15, the network announced Wednesday.

In addition, CBS News anchor and correspondent Alex Wagner has been named a “permanent” host, joining incumbents John Heileman and Mark McKinnon.

Late in October, CNN reported that Halperin was accused by five women of sexual harassment when he had worked at ABC News more than a decade ago. Within days, the Halperin industry — which included his high-profile role at NBC News and MSNBC, his hosting job at “The Circus,” and a planned miniseries for HBO — came crashing down. Because he was so closely identified with “The Circus,” and with Heileman — with whom he had written a handful of best-sellers on politics, including one that was adapted into an acclaimed HBO movie (“Game Change”) — there was an expectation that this show would end as well.

Nevertheless, “The Circus” proved something of a breakout for Showtime, in large measure due to the Heileman/Halperin team. Laid-back, and appropriately incredulous, their shared view of American politics was that it might be chaotic but not without logic. The circus was the guiding metaphor here: Hucksters, circus animals, “freaks” provide the entertainment, while the suckers who pay the price of admission (the voters) fill the stands. With his drawl and Stetson, political consultant McKinnon offered the insider perspective while conveying a pervasive sense that politics really was and is a seamier outlier to the entertainment industry. Martini dry, and frequently acerbic, it rendered the current political landscape as slapstick comedy.

Now the role of ringmaster — the one Halperin held — falls to Wagner, a rising star at CBS, and formerly at MSNBC where she hosted the press roundtable series, “Now with Alex Wagner.” As Showtime noted, she was co-anchor of “CBS This Morning: Saturday,” as well as a contributing writer at The Atlantic. Her first book, the network noted, will be entitled “Futureface” and released in April in time for the show’s launch. The network said it will “examine questions about American identity in the 21st century.”

In its news release, Showtime made no mention of Halperin.

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