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.
Interesting insights. We have been far behind our counterparts across the Big Pond for decades. My international friends know centuries of their own history and tidbits of personal information about their leaders. Even our friends south of the border know a great deal more about the Alamo and other border wars than we do. I'd like to think that the Constitution, our next lineup of leaders and key concerns about our environment are more important than Brad Pitt, J-Lo or simple Idol chatter.
There is another wrinkle now. The government is saying Burnett's plan to give the winning contestant prize money and then require them to spend it on a campaign runs afoul of existing federal election laws. Read more about it here:
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