Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Great Minds Think Alike: American President Idol Style

All I can say is that great minds think alike. My post last week about searching for the American President “idol style” was picked up and printed in the Springfield News-Leader. The editorial got online comments and I got six phone calls at work as a result.

It seems that other people have had this same idea. One person is working on a book with this type of plot. Another wanted to see something like this done but on a more local basis. Two other people with connections to the entertainment industry called to say projects with a similar theme/idea (projects which I promised not to mention specifically) are also in the works.

But the kicker is when I found out that a show like this was tried in 2004. It failed (partially because it only aired on Showtime) but Mark Burnett is working another attempt at this idea for this year.

The first show, done in the summer of 2004, was known as “American Candidate.” Montel Williams was the host. Here is what Burnett’s production company had to say about the program:

“American Candidate is a ground-breaking television series in which the American
people will identify a People's Candidate that they would like to see run for
President of the United States.

AMERICAN CANDIDATE will attempt to identify one individual who has the qualifications and qualities to be President of the United States.

AMERICAN CANDIDATE will debut with 12 contestants from all walks of life. Over the course of 10 weeks, those 12 will face-off against each other in a series of challenges designed to test their presidential mettle and to show viewers what really goes on in the making of a presidential candidate. Week-by-week, the original pool of candidates will be winnowed down. The final episode will be a showdown between the remaining two candidates, and one person will emerge victorious -- the "American Candidate."

The winner received $200,000 and a nationwide media appearance after the show so the winner can address the nation. After winning “American Candidate,” Park Gillespie dropped out of the race for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives. The Republican Party in that state basically told him to take a hike. So, just like the show itself, Park bombed.

But brace yourself, Mark Burnett is going to try it again. This time his show, “The Independent,” is being partnered with and is going to appear on a “major network.” The prize money is still too small but here is the official word from a story written by Michael Schneider in Variety.

“Mark Burnett Prods. is partnering with MySpace to discover the modern-day Mr.
Smith. The two entities are behind “Independent,” an online project targeted to become a full-fledged TV series built around a search to find the next great politician.

The show, timed to the 2008 elections, hasn’t yet been pitched to networks. It comes with a $1 million prize … and a catch: Winner must donate the money to a political cause or use it to run for office.

“This is the ‘American Idol’ of political action,” said Burnett development head Roy Bank. “We’ve been exploring for a while how to do something in and around what is going to be the topic on everyone’s tongues next year — the elections. We wanted it to be legit, and there’s no greater democracy in play right now for people in their 20s than MySpace.”

Bank dismissed similarities between “American Candidate” and “Independent,” however. “That was smaller, with no public interaction,” he said. “That’s the biggest
difference. This is real people, real constituents, with interaction here.”

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Find Our Next American President -- Idol Style

American Idol continues to reign supreme on television. Millions of people call each week to select their favorite talented singing adolescent. The show is all the rage on the Internet, in classrooms and around the office water cooler.

Why do we not have that same level of interest in American politics?

Over 35 million votes are cast in just two hours for American Idol contestants – each week. Meanwhile, in the 2004 presidential election (which was open all day), 122 million Americans cast a vote. Why is there so much difference between the participation rates in these two elections?

I have an idea that might help change this trend.

Why not host a national television show (starting this summer) called "American President?" Have people apply or tryout to run as the "citizens candidate" for President. Get a group of about 100 solid candidates (from varied backgrounds, experiences and with varied ideas) that could do the job but don't have the money backing them to campaign nationwide.

Then, each week, have the candidate’s present ideas or solutions to various problems facing our nation. Then each week selected groups of candidate’s debate issues and Americans then vote on who stays and who goes home.

Each week the group gets smaller and each week interest in the show, and the solutions proposed by candidates, increases.

When the show is down to the top 10 the show could start airing “candidate” profiles. Each week, candidates would be given five or 10 minutes to address the American public and present their ideas on how to tackle certain issues.

By the time the final person is selected in "American President" we would have a viable and well-known third-party candidate who would have national support and recognition.

Perhaps part of the show's prize would be money to begin a national campaign. If the show finished up in time this person could be showing up in national primaries.

Since this is my idea, I'm even going to volunteer to be a judge or consultant to the program. I work pretty cheap.

Something like "American President" might get citizens more engaged in the election process. If we could just get young Americans as interested in the Presidential race as they are American Idol, that would be a great success story.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Do Dropping Newspaper Circulations Impact Democracy?

Circulation numbers for newspapers are going down nationwide. A report in Editor & Publisher documents this trend. The Newspaper Association of America says daily circulation nationwide has dropped 2.1 percent in the last six months. The downward trend can also be seen with weekly newspapers in southwest Missouri.

Still, the decline in readership has some concerned about the future of our democracy. How do citizens stay informed? How can they fully understand the issues facing our country? How do the get the information they need to be an active citizen?

Some say Americans are going elsewhere for their news. Audiences for radio appear healthy and cable news channels have seen growth.

Readership of online news sources is also up. In fact, I have a friend who has never subscribed to a newspaper. His parents didn’t subscribe to a newspaper when he was growing up and he didn’t after getting married. However, he has, within the past year, become a daily reader of online news content (from area and national newspapers).

That example makes me wonder if readership is really down or just going elsewhere. I don’t know of any studies right now that answer that question.

However, if newspapers are losing circulation I think there are some core reasons why.

Over the past 10 years, study after study has found that American citizens are losing confidence in the news media. This includes a study published May 28, 2003, by USA Today and Gallup Poll that found only 36 percent of Americans “believe news organizations get the facts straight.”

The downward trend began in the 1980’s and gained steam in the 1990’s, long-before the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times gave the credibility of large newspapers a black eye. Nationally, a majority of citizens no longer trust the news media in general, and newspapers in particular.

Some citizens think the news media covers up real stories for the sake of owners or advertisers. Others find liberal bias in much of what is written and said (or left out). Still others find the news sensationalized and hyped for the sole purpose of profit. Meanwhile, others say the news media is nothing but entertainment while the real hard issues of our culture get ignored.

Meanwhile, this downward trend may be harming our democracy. What do you think?

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