FX defeats reality ‘Candidate’ skein

Cabler elects to reject political show

HOLLYWOOD — FX has called off its campaign to find “The American Candidate” — but creator R.J. Cutler vowed Friday to find a new home for the political reality series.

“American Candidate,” which was designed to give an average citizen a platform on which to launch a 2004 presidential platform, has been controversial from the moment the show’s conceit was revealed (Daily Variety, Sept. 20). But FX execs decided to bow out late last week after determining that the cabler couldn’t cover the cost of mounting such an ambitious reality show.

Cutler, Tom Lassally and Jay Roach are behind the “War Room”-meets-“American Idol” concept, a two-year endeavor that takes a group of regular citizens and pits them against one another, ultimately leading the American public to choose a “people’s candidate” to run for president of the United States in 2004.

FX entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly said he spent months trying to figure out how to make the economics work. Cutler was asked to tailor down the project, but even then the cable net wouldn’t have made any money on the show, he said.

“This has been frustrating to all parties involved,” Reilly said. “It’s a big disappointment. A lot of work and time was put into this. But at a certain point the credibility of the idea would have been hampered. It just got to a point where on a business level, it didn’t make sense.”

Reilly said mounting a nationwide presidential campaign required following multiple candidates on the road across the country on a weekly basis.

“American Candidate” also plans to hold a Republican- and Democratic-style political convention as its final episode — another serious investment, he said.

In the end, Reilly said, the network didn’t expect to pull the kind of advertising CPMs that would have covered the cost of the show.

“This got to be extraordinarily expensive,” Reilly said. “If this was the only program bet we were making this year, then we would have sucked it up and done it. But this year we’re producing more original programming than ever in the history of the network, so there’s no extra room.”

Reilly dismissed talk that News Corp. higher-ups may have been jittery about FX airing such a politically charged show; the exec said conglom brass approved the show, which he noted was controversial from day one.

But Reilly admitted that the current political environment may have made “American Candidate” a tougher sell with advertisers.

“It’s not a no-brainer from an advertiser perspective,” he said. “Right now we are a growing cable network, but we don’t have the kind of budgets that can take on this project right now.”

Nonplussed, Cutler said the process had been moving along “beautifully” up until the point FX decided to drop out of the “American Candidate” race. The documeister said he expects to announce a new television partner shortly.

“From our point of view we’re moving forward,” he said. “We will be launching our Web site in September. The show will be on the air in 2004 as planned. We’re disappointed and we’ll miss those guys. They contributed a lot to the idea.”

But Cutler and company own the rights to “American Candidate,” and are free to take the show anywhere, he said.

“We’re very passionate and our passion hasn’t waned at all,” Cutler said. “This is a TV show that has the enthusiastic support of the RNC and DNC . . . It will be a milestone in history and politics.”

Cutler said “American Candidate’s” advisory board includes former U.S. senators Alan Simpson and Bob Kerry.

“American Candidate” grew out of another project that did not go forward, a concept at HBO called “Candidate 2012.” But that show was much more a straight documentary about one individual with designs on running for president in 2012.