by Brian Lowry

Sarah Palin, Donald Trump Already Seasoned Vets

In the name of fiscal responsibility and recognition of our changing times, here's a serious thought: Let's transform the 2012 Republican presidential primary into a reality TV show. While that might sound flippant, it's really a pragmatic suggestion. In fact, while in the midst of writing this column, a producer sent an email proposing the exact same thing, and his very clever tongue-in-cheek ideas are printed (alas, anonymously) below. Consider a few facts:

Primary campaigning is extremely expensive, and the travel is brutal. To stage a complete presidential run now requires raising as much as $1 billion. Even couched in Austin Powers-like world-domination terms, that's a lot of coin. This amended approach would not only spare candidates from some of those financial pressures, but nobody would have to spend months shaking hands in Iowa or New Hampshire. And under this scheme, the nomination would run straight through News Corp., as it does today, albeit more unofficially.

"The GOP Primary Show" could start out on Fox News Channel, which already employs (until recently, anyway) most of the contenders. In later rounds, the program would migrate to the flagship Fox network, featuring candidate interviews with Chris Wallace to help promote the show during "American Idol." As a bonus, several potential contenders already have reality-TV experience -- see "Sarah Palin's Alaska" and Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" -- beyond the horde with conventional talking-head cable gigs. So the question of whether this is an undignified way of selecting a president already seems moot.

A few unique parameters might be imposed. For this show only, all producers would have to be U.S.-born and produce a valid birth certificate. Unfortunately, that would eliminate Mark Burnett, but also spares him from alienating talent (er, possible candidates) with whom he's done business in the past, including Trump and Palin. Like most showbiz concepts, this pitch isn't entirely new. Back in 2002, FX (another News Corp. unit) and producer R.J. Cutler announced "American Candidate," a series that would seek to identify a future politician, before the network realized the nightmarish logistics and backed out.

A modified version wound up airing on Showtime two years later, without generating much noise. Times have changed since then, however, and the blurring between TV and politics continues to evolve. Indeed, politicians have actually become so enamored with the unfettered platforms provided by cable punditry, few have formally declared their presidential aspirations, which once announced trigger onerous restrictions.

For the concept to be viable, there would have to be tinkering with certain provisions, like equal-time rules. Somehow, though, one suspects a proposal promising all legitimate candidates from the party outside the White House plenty of free airtime -- presided over by Rupert Murdoch's empire -- wouldn't meet overwhelming resistance on Capitol Hill.

Back when Cutler first unveiled "American Candidate," the stated plan was to build momentum (and this is the honest truth) toward a July 4 face-off among three remaining candidates, staged at the D.C. Mall. Since then, we've had two major rallies at that location fronted by TV personalities, Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert; and a former Speaker of the House who competed on "Dancing With the Stars." The main problem, at least until "Jersey Shore's" Snooki and the Situation meet the age 35-and-older presidential requirement, is sadly common to modern media -- namely, the relationship between TV and politics simply defies parody.

Here, meanwhile, are the five best of those aforementioned primary-show phrases and challenges:

"It's the prize of a lifetime."

"We call this task 'Spin doctor.' You declare war on the wrong country; now sell it to the public."

"In this next challenge, candidates will have to sneak away from their security detail. If you're caught, you're out."

"This challenge involves all of your past lovers. Donald, you have an advantage here, so you will sit this one out." And for the climactic "The tribe-has-spoken" moment ... "Your primary ends here."


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GOP Reality Primary Could Be a Win-Win | Politics