Showtime’s voting for ‘Candidate’

Final episode will let viewers choose real politico

Showtime and filmmaker R.J. Cutler have officially launched their search for “The American Candidate.”

Pay cabler has ordered 10 episodes of the reality show, which will air this summer — timed to the actual presidential conventions.

“Candidate” will take 12 finalists from all walks of life and put them on the campaign trail, leading up to a final episode in which viewers choose which one they’d conceivably like to see run for real political office. According to Cutler, prospective candidates for the show will be able to download an application from the show’s Web site, Americancandidate.com, beginning today.

Showtime entertainment prexy Bob Greenblatt said he was looking for a new reality hit and hoped to capture “that sort of ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ phenomenon” with the show.

“There is a contest, there is a prize, but there are sort of higher ideals to this,” he said.

Cutler had been in talks with Showtime for some time about reviving the concept, originally developed at FX. Viacom, which owns the channel, wrote to the Federal Election Committee late last year, looking to make sure “Candidate” didn’t violate federal campaign finance laws (Daily Variety, Nov. 11).

The committee gave its blessing right before the holidays. Cutler, Tom Lassally and Jay Roach are behind the “War Room”-meets-“American Idol” concept.

“I’m hoping this show will identify extraordinary men and women from all walks of life who have great leadership skills,” Cutler said. “This show is a gigantic simulation of the political process. Our candidates will be running against each other, strategizing, taking out advertisements in newspapers and TV and getting real voters to support them.”

The Showtime pickup is the culmination of Cutler’s own campaign to save the concept, which had been controversial from the moment the show’s conceit was revealed (Daily Variety, Sept. 20, 2002).

FX execs then decided to bow out in April after determining that the cabler couldn’t cover the cost of mounting such an ambitious reality show. CAA-repped Cutler then took the show to Showtime, where he recently produced the critically acclaimed “Freshman Diaries.”

The Showtime version will be slightly smaller in scale than what had been set up at FX. Greenblatt said “Candidate” will be done “for a reasonable amount of money.”

“It’s not the cheapest documentary reality show we’ve done, but it’s not the most expensive,” he said.

Cutler and Showtime will also seek out corporate tie-ins and sponsorships to help defray the cost of the show “and put more money on the screen.”

Prospective candidates must meet the constitutional requirements for running for the presidency (age 35 or over; born in the United States; a resident for at least 14 years) and cannot be an office holder or seeker. The show will wrap in September; after that, the winner is free to run as a real-life write-in candidate.

“This show has three real objectives in addition to just being good TV,” Cutler said. “One, to identify future leaders and give them a platform to discover remarkable people who can make a difference. The second thing is to make the process a little more transparent. And third, what we want to do is get people really involved.”

Greenblatt said he believed “Candidate” would be both “highly entertaining and really sophisticated.”

“The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive,” he said. “This is something that can really get attention but also maybe get people to think differently about something that’s very important to this country.”

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