MySpace, Burnett to launch political reality show
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Up next: "American Idol" meets "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Mark Burnett, the producer who popularized reality television, and Internet social network MySpace will unveil a new reality TV and Internet series that aims to groom one young politician or community leader to represent young America.
Politicians globally have put videos online and designed Web pages on MySpace and the YouTube video service, MySpace's new program, "Independent," has a similar objective: to engage young U.S. citizens -- in reverse.
To do this, "Independent" will let viewers decide the fate of contestants who submit audition videos on MySpace.
The program, expected to launch in early 2008, may be a way to spark interest in the political process among young adults, executives involved with the project said.
"'Independent' represents a giant leap in the re-democratization of American politics," said Chris DeWolfe, chief executive of News Corp.'s MySpace unit.
The project is a new twist on an old idea.
"American Candidate," created by filmmaker R.J. Cutler and hosted by Montel Williams, ran on the Showtime pay cable TV network in 2004. It featured 10 candidates of various political views and backgrounds who faced off in a series of challenges to find the one most qualified to run for president. One contestant was voted off the show each week.
These shows are intended to spark interest in politics among young U.S. adults. In 2004, they had the lowest voting and registration rate of all eligible age groups. That is despite the largest increase in both rates since the 2000 presidential race, according to a report by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Independent" does not have a TV broadcast network partner yet -- and that is one of the points of the series, Burnett said. TV remains the most efficient way to reach wide audiences, he added, but the Internet is where more young people are spending more of their time.
The process begins with the close to 100 million unique users who flirt, discuss and attack each other on Rupert Murdoch's online social network MySpace. Those people decide the winner, the losers and their issues on the new show.
"The whole point of 'Independent' really speaks to what young Americans want," the British-born Burnett said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "If you look back, the (political) system was supposed to work this way."
MySpace users and TV viewers will select from a pool of candidates who have uploaded audition videos to the site.
MySpace users who support specific candidates are encouraged to publicize or campaign for the candidate by creating online videos and by employing other online marketing tactics.
Each week, Internet and TV viewers will vote on new missions that players must accomplish. The missions are related to issues raised by the MySpace community.
They can range from how to take action on issues such as whether a new Wal-Mart outlet should be welcomed to a small local town to whether a new factory or housing development could threaten the ecology of the local creek.
"This is about enabling people-powered politics," said Jeff Berman, general manager of MySpace Video.
One winner will earn $1 million to spend on launching a new political party, donating to a political cause or entering the U.S. presidential race.
That is a far cry from traditional presidential campaign budgets of up to $100 million. "Maybe this proves that with the voice of independent young America behind it you don't need a $100 million war chest," Burnett said.
(Additional reporting by Robert MacMillan in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)
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