WASHINGTON – From the people who produced the political documentary The War Room and the director of the Austin Powers series comes a new concept that takes reality TV into the political world.
Cable network FX, a subsidiary of News Corp., the parent company of FOX News, is planning a show called The American Candidate.
It's kind of like American Idol, the FOX Network summer hit that made 20-year-old Kelly Clarkson a household name.
But instead of searching for untapped musical talent — the idea is to search the country for untapped political talent, and possibly even the next commander-in-chief.
Producer R.J. Cutler told the entertainment publication Variety: "We will be making available to every American who is qualified ... the opportunity to run for president."
"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 added.
The political possibilities are mind-boggling. Approximately 13.4 million people watched American Idol. That's roughly a third of the audience for the last Bush/Gore debate. It's nearly 13 percent of the number of people who actually voted in the 2000 presidential election.
If a dynamic, appealing and knowledgeable political version of Kelly Clarkson emerged and caught fire with voters, he or she could end up drawing a significant portion of the popular vote.
"The kind of third party candidates they tend to go for in significant numbers, are those who get over the threshold of not being known. In other words, they have to be celebrities," said political analyst Michael Barone.
That has worked before. Former pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura defied predictions to become the governor of Minnesota. Independent candidate H. Ross Perot didn't win the presidency, but in 1992, the billionaire drew 19 percent of the popular vote, some say capturing enough Republican votes to cost President George H.W. Bush the re-election.
"That shows that there's a considerable demand in the political marketplace for something like a centrist candidate who is apart from and different from the candidates in the two parties," Barone said.
Of course, FX currently has a small viewership compared to the Fox network, but it does reach nearly 80 million homes. And shows like The Sopranos and The Osbornes have proven that cable programs can find a significant audience.
Another bonus: On The American Candidate, British record producer Simon Cowell won't be a judge.