How Election-Themed Series 'Kal Penn Approves This Message' Avoids the 24-Hour News Cycle

Kal Penn - The Hoda Show September 23, 2019 - Getty-H 2019
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Freeform's remotely produced, youth-focused series Kal Penn Approves This Message is taking a nonpartisan stance in its attempt to get young viewers engaged in the political process. But that doesn't mean it ignores basic facts.

"I never want to have a conversation where there's fact versus opinion," Penn said on a panel promoting the series Tuesday morning. "So the baseline is, let's look at facts: Climate change is real. Human rights is a real thing. There's a certain metric that we're using, and it's just a fact metric in terms of how to approach it."

Penn hosts the six-week series, which premiered Sept. 22 — National Voter Registration Day — and explores issues relevant to Millennial and Gen Z voters, which encouraging them to cast a vote in November's election. It's part of a larger voter turnout campaign at the cable network with the tagline "Kick 2020 in the Ballots. FF'ing Vote."

The actor is also a former White House staffer, having left his series regular role on House in 2009 to join the Obama Administration's Office of Public Engagement, and later served on the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities.

Penn and Romen Borsellino co-created the series as a way to combine the humor in late-night talk shows like The Daily Show and Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, but with calls to action for younger voters who don't necessarily know how to get involved.

"We thought, well, what if we take the best of what we love about this space, which is humor, and then combine it with something like CBS Sunday Morning, which is very wholesome and very unifying," Penn said, "and present that as a show that's packaged to a younger audience where you can talk about one specific issue over the course of the arc of the episode, you have a guest who knows a lot about that particular issue, and then you leave the audience with a way that they can get involved in get engaged."

Each remotely produced episode is put together in about a week and a half, and while the news cycle is constantly changing, the show purposefully focuses on single issues instead.

"The design of our show is to not respond to the 24-hour news cycle, so in our case it doesn't really matter how fast or slow something's happening because we're taking a different approach to specific issues," Penn said.

Added executive producer Julia Cassidy, "Though we are not responding to the daily news cycle, we are trying to be as timely as possible in terms of things we are covering. When major things happen, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing, we obviously want to be able to include that in our coverage, but yeah, it's very fast. It's a couple days shooting, a couple days editing, and out the door."

And the show isn't necessarily nonpartisan for any reason other than the fact that, as Penn said, "Most young people don't consider themselves Democrats or Republicans. There isn't that loyalty. That was important to all of us when we were developing the show because we really wanted to make it about issues and and have it appeal to younger folks who are sort of trying to find their place in our crazy civics process."

Kal Penn Approves This Message airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on Freeform through Oct. 27.