Creating an election network could boost votes

It’s January in an election year, sweeps week is just around the corner and the presidential primaries have just begun to kick into high gear – it’s high time we turned prime time into primary time!

The Writers Guild of America is still on strike, and numerous television networks are resorting to the ever-expanding niche of reality television to fill the void. Meanwhile, I can’t help pondering why no one has yet successfully popularized the electoral process for television.

Granted, a fine line of taste and bureaucracy supposedly exists between the world of politics and media that some might say should not be crossed. Some, however, might say we already crossed that line when news became entertainment and politicians became celebrities, and that nothing should be considered sacred anymore. Regardless, there are ethics codes, electoral commissions and campaign finance laws that exist to outline in great detail what can and cannot be done by presidential hopefuls.

Let’s imagine for a moment, however, that a legal and reasonable compromise could be reached that would allow a prime-time multi-network reality television series to incorporate and showcase the political process of selecting our president.

Obviously, such a program could not charge candidates or generate profit for the politicians concerned, but much like breaking for commercials during a presidential debate, advertising sold during this program could benefit the network or networks involved while providing extremely valuable time for candidates, given on an equal basis.

The benefits to the networks are immediately apparent. Such a program would require no writers and no paid actors, generating pure profit, minus production costs. There would also be numerous other benefits to both the politicians involved and the American voters. First and foremost, sadly, would be a vast increase of popular interest in the political process.

I don’t want to say that Americans pay more attention to their televisions than to their government, but The Guardian reported in 2006 that the “American Idol” finale pulled in a record 63 million votes, topping the record for votes received by a single presidential candidate, 54.5 million by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Granted, “Idol” allows multiple votes, but there’s always the possibility that Diebold electronic voting machines do as well.

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Fair election in any democratic process is a matter of faith and perspective.

Now, before you dismiss my presidential race reality show as frivolous, I’d like to explain that I’m not suggesting a call-in show with a title like “America’s Next Commander in Chief” or “Political Idol” to determine the presidency, but rather a higher-visibility, lower-cost and more entertaining alternative to the fundraising war the presidential race has become.

Elements of hit television abound in political races already and could easily be combined and packaged in an attractive manner for television. Politicians have a built-in celebrity factor. When you add the novelty of a political reality show with the level of interactivity that could be provided by call-in polling and on-the-spot YouTube debate questions, you have an extremely promising premise.

This series could follow the standard reality-television formula and showcase each hopeful’s past and platform through glamorous montages and fluff pieces, edited for presentation by the campaign managers themselves. Not quite free commercial air time, the segments could be given common direction and a weekly focus by show guidelines, allowing viewers to compare politicians on similar grounds.

Viewers could pick candidates and subjects, then face them off in one on one debates.

The portion of the show that most Americans would appreciate, however, would likely be behind-the-scenes glimpses of the candidates at home, similar to MTV’s “The Osbournes.” This is the personal touch that is largely missing from politics, the thing that could make all the difference in the world to the average voter. Most people feel that they are fairly good judges of character, but in a highly scripted political ad or a formal debate, very little of a candidate’s character is revealed. A chance to observe presidential hopefuls candidly, in their own environment, could prove invaluable to undecided voters.

Of course, we couldn’t be expected to make our choice without experiencing a little of the candidates’ conflict-management and crisis-resolution skills. For that I’d recommend a practical joke segment akin to “Punk’d” and an extended political round table with all the candidates under one roof discussing policy for days – like “The Real World: D.C.”

About the only people I could see objecting to this idea are the politicians themselves, but hey, they’re the ones so interested in public office. Besides, what else are we going to watch this spring, summer and fall while avoiding the long, boring political programs on cable news?

Is it too late for me to pitch my reality show about Mike Huckabee and Chuck Norris as border patrol guards?