Cable channel FX axed plans for reality show “American Candidate” last Friday, but creator R.J. Cutler said the project—aiming to put a grassroots candidate in the 2004 presidential election—will find a new home.
Cutler’s previous projects include “The War Room,” a 1992 documentary about Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, and the Emmy-winning documentary “American High,” which PBS picked up after FOX canceled it.
Increased production costs determined FX’s decision to drop the show, according to FX Entertainment President Kevin Reilly.
“The bottom line is the cost exceeded the level we were prepared for,” Reilly said in TelevisionWeek. “We knew it would be expensive, but the level of cost escalated far beyond our anticipation.”
The show’s concept relies on finding a pool of Americans willing to throw their hat into the presidential election ring. The show provides a platform for exposure, allowing the viewing public to choose a “people’s candidate” for 2004.
The show was initially announced last September, with a premiere date in January 2004.
As plans proceeded, however, FX felt the production costs were becoming too high—TelevisionWeek reported that the price tag for each episode may have been nearing $800,000 to $1 million.
Such high costs would have resulted from following various candidates across the country week after week, as well as financing a sort of “political convention” for the final episode.
Reilly denied that News Corp., the parent to FX, grew jittery about the concept, according to Variety, the Hollywood trade publication. Reilly did say, however, that the show is not controversy-free—and therefore may have presented a problem for advertisers.
Cutler said his production company, Actual Reality Pictures, which owns the rights to the project, is moving forward with pre-production. A Web site will launch in September and the show will air in 2004, he said, according to Variety.
“We’re very passionate and our passion hasn’t waned at all,” Cutler said. “This is a TV show that has the enthusiastic support of the RNC and DNC. … It will be a milestone in history and politics.”
Variety also quoted Cutler as saying that the show’s advisory board included former U.S. senators Alan Simpson and Bob Kerry.
FX originally committed to 13 episodes, with the Web site—asking for candidate applications—to go online early this year. The war with Iraq pushed that launch date back to September, TelevisionWeek reported. Then word of FX’s decision came down.
Cutler said he still expects 10,000 candidates to apply, with roughly 6,000 people having already tracked down Cutler and company to do so, according to TelevisionWeek.
Formally accepting applications is scheduled to begin with the Web site launch in September. Eligible candidates (natural-born citizens at least 35 years old by Jan. 20, 2005) must submit petitions signed by 250 supporters. The pool will be narrowed to about 20 between September and December 2003, Associated Press reported.
“This show is not a reaction to the George W. Bush presidency; this is a reaction to an electorate that doesn’t vote,” Cutler said in TelevisionWeek. “It’s in reaction to a two-party political system that the voting public responds to with malaise and apathy.”
Cutler said he hopes the show will illuminate America’s political processes.
“We’ll find what inspires people to get involved, to play a role in their political destiny, which they’re entitled to,” Cutler said in TelevisionWeek. “Let’s show people that it’s not a joke to run for president. It takes stamina, strength and commitment. Maybe people won’t take those who go through the process quite so lightly.”
When the show was announced last September, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote that “‘American Candidate’ will never air a single episode.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.