- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003


Reality television has made stars of barely dressed people competing for $1 million, singers competing for recording contracts, bachelors and bachelorettes competing for love. So why not political candidates stumping for viewer votes?

More than three years after CBS began airing the reality TV phenomenon “Survivor,” Showtime Networks Inc. wants to begin a simulated presidential campaign, to be shown when the real presidential campaign is heating up next summer. Showtime and CBS are owned by Viacom Inc.

“American Candidate” would feature regular people competing in campaign events until one emerges the winner.

Bryan Byrd, vice president of publicity at Showtime, stressed that the program is in the planning stages. “It’s something that is being explored,” he said. “It isn’t a done deal.”

As it considers whether to proceed with the idea, Viacom is awaiting an answer from the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on whether the program would violate election laws.

Showtime said the show would offer a look at the decision-making processes and the strains of political campaigns. Each week the candidates would plot campaign strategy, campaign for support, respond to e-mails from viewers and make statements aimed at getting public support.

Contestants would make speeches and participate in debates and news conferences, some authentic, some staged. They would also devise campaign strategies, produce TV ads, consult with advisers, choose policy positions and try to build public support. Candidates could solicit contributions but would have to give the money to charity.

At the end of each episode, viewers could vote for their favorite candidate by phone or the Internet. The 10- to 12-week series would end with one winner, based on weekly popular votes, polling samples and program judges.

R.J. Cutler, director of “the War Room,” a documentary about then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, would produce the project with Jay Roach, director of the “Austin Powers” movies.

Larry Noble, head of the Center for Responsive Politics and former FEC general counsel, said the show might pose some troubling issues for the FEC, but he predicted that the commission would probably say the series is clear of election laws. He said the FEC probably would only warn Showtime to tell the faux candidates not to endorse real candidates.

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