Reality TV Meets the 2004 Presidential Campaign
American Candidate
[December 23, 2003, Updated July 15, 2004]  The premise of the show is simple.  On a date to be determined the nine Democratic candidates will be plucked off the campaign trail, transported to Southern California, and driven to separate locations in the Anza Borrego Desert.  Each candidate will be dropped off with only a canteen of water and a box of granola bars, and, trailed by a camera crew and reporter, the candidate will then try to find his or her way back to civilization.  Envisaged as an alternative to the drawn-out primary process, "Survivor: The Politicians" will test the wiles and survival instincts of the candidates.

The desert drill is not going to happen, but how about a national contest to help one of the presidential candidates "find his perfect First Lady?"  The winner will be flown in to meet the candidate and treated to dinner.  Inspired by a remark by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and actually did hold a "Who Wants To Be First Lady Contest" which drew entries from 80 women and culminated in Kucinich having breakfast with Gina Marie Santore, age 33 of New Jersey, at the Holiday Inn in Concord on December 11, 2003.  Fox didn't make a series of it, however.

In fact there is a proposed series that will bring about the intersection of reality TV and the presidential campaign.  R.J. Cutler, who produced "The War Room," a documentary about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, has come up with "American Candidate," described as "a reality series in which the American public will choose a people's candidate to run for President of the United States in 2004."  The show will actually be closer to "American Idol" than "Survivor."  A panel of experts will narrow down a pool of applicants to a manageable number of finalists who will compete in events designed to test their political skills.  (The schmooze?  The handshake?  The evasive answer?)

On September 20, 2002 FX announced it had bought the series, but in May 2003 FX pulled out, citing costs.  Showtime Networks Inc. took on the project.  In October 2003 it requested an advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission on how the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and FEC regulations would apply.  See FEC: Draft AO 2003-34 [pdf].

"American Candidate" will premiere on August 1 at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) and run over ten weeks.  Montel Williams will host "American Candidate," and ten candidates, announced July 15, 2004, will compete.  The winner will receive $200,000 and a nationwide media appearance.