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Cable channel FX has announced it will carry a new reality series in 2004 that will allow TV viewers to choose a “people’s candidate” for the American presidency.

“More than four decades after the Nixon-Kennedy debates forever altered the nature of TV and politics, the News Corp. Ltd.-owned cable channel is embarking on an ambitious two-year project melding democracy and showbiz as never before,” wrote Steve Gorman in a Reuters article.

The creative team behind the show—”American Candidate”—includes: R.J. Cutler, producer of “The War Room” documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign; Jay Roach, director of the “Austin Power” movies; and Tom Lassally, entertainment executive and producer.

“Presidential politics is the Great Reality Television Platform,” Cutler told the Washington Post.

A panel will choose roughly 100 candidates from thousands of expected applications. The first episode is planned to air in January 2004. Each week thereafter, candidates will compete in activities designed to reveal beliefs, values, attitudes, skills, etc.

“A handful of presidential hopefuls will be whacked each week, based on a point system that factors in those competition results, the live audience’s preferences, and telephone and Internet voting,” according to the Washington Post.

“American Candidate” will culminate around July 4, with a sort of convention in Washington.

The winner will then decide whether to run for office that fall. If the winner does run, the series will continue, following the candidate on the campaign trail up to the election.

“We see this show as tapping into grass-roots politics,” Cutler told the Post. “Word will spread and interest will spread and, as a result, galvanize not only the viewing audience but a broad cross section” of voters.

Perhaps the line between politics and show business has never been finer. Jesse Ventura, governor of Minnesota, was a well-known wrestler and actor before entering the statehouse. Fred Dalton Thompson, senator from Tennessee, has also juggled acting jobs and political office.

And NBC’s presidential drama, “The West Wing,” is so popular that its crew, on a recent shoot in Pennsylvania, saw yard signs reading “Bartlet for President”—referring to the show’s fictional president.

Roger Ebert, however, questioned the whole idea of “American Candidate.”

He wrote on Sept. 23 in the Chicago Sun-Times: “My guess … is that ‘American Candidate’ will never air a single episode. It is dangerous mischief. Rupert Murdoch, who owns FX and quickly ascertains which way the wind is blowing, will bring it down with a thunderous oath, probably later this week.”

So far, plans for the show are still moving forward.

“We’re trying to see if there’s a young Abe Lincoln out there, somebody whose vision could turn on the public in an exciting way,” Cutler told Daily Variety.

Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.

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