Dear Mark Burnett,
With the midterm elections behind us, Obama’s first two rivals have made their intent to run for president pretty clear. It’s not Bloomberg or Huckabee. It’s Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. These two figures, who are as different as Alaska and New York, have one thing in common: they both star in reality shows produced by you. Coincidence?
Sarah threw her hat in the ring first when she went to ABC News and told Barbara Walters she could beat Obama in 2012. Then, last Thursday, Donald went on the same network and told George Stephanopoulos he didn’t really want to run for president, but he might just have to because China is laughing at us.
As a fellow TV veteran who has produced countless interviews with presidential candidates, I hope you don’t mind some advice on what I see as two major problems. First, coming from Great Britain, you may not know the equal time rule for federal elections and that could wreak havoc with your reality franchises. Second, which candidate is the fan favorite and the one you wish the country to support? One solution: a new primetime reality show which pits Palin against Trump. This way you get to be the producer and the judge.
Here are some possible titles: So You Want To Be the President, Campaigning With the Stars, Survivor: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or The Really Amazing Race. To save on the budget, rent the old West Wing set from NBC. Then, each week, summon the candidates/contestants into the Oval Office for their latest assignment. The challenges would unfold like this:
Week 1: Introducing the Next First Family
This could be thrilling as it pits Bristol against Ivanka, Trig against Barron, Todd against Melania. Just think about the ratings, especially if we can, wink-wink, get somebody dancing.
Week 2: Throw the Book at Them
You know how you have your Apprentice teams develop instant glossy brochures for real new car models? Here Trump and Palin would gather their publishing teams and come up with a new instant book with title, cover art and book launch party. Trump does have a bit of an advantage... he’s authored about 32 books as opposed to Palin’s measly two. The war-room twist? No ghostwriters allowed.
Week 3: Going Viral
Each candidate must come up with a political message recorded on Flip video and the one with the most YouTube hits wins. With this challenge, the advantage goes to Palin whose @SarahPalinUSA has 307,936 Twitter followers (and growing). @Trump4President has just 26 (at last count). Ouch. While Palin’s Twitter page identifies her as former governor of Alaska and GOP vice presidential nominee, @Trump4President is already test-driving a message: “It’s time to put some common sense back into Washington.” They’ll both enjoy infusing some fresh ideas.
Week 4: "Surprise Me"
This is admittedly borrowed from Amazon.com where one can click on a “surprise me” option to randomly see pages inside an author’s books. For instance, in Trump’s latest book Trump University: Marketing 101, I found, “I think a great example of what I did with marketing is what I did with The Apprentice. From a show that everyone said would not be on the air long, I made it the number one show on television. I had a product I believed in and I marketed it.”
On our show, Trump could explain what he means by “the number one show on television” as the highest it ever reached was No. 7 in 2003-04, its rookie season, and it’s only dipped since then. Maybe it was the No. 1 show on NBC or the No. 1 show for a week. Well, the point is, we take various quotations by Trump and Palin over the years, and they randomly select which to defend, either by spinning a wheel or selecting a suitcase held by a scantily clad model.
Week 5: Decorating the Oval Office
As each president through history has added a personal touch—JFK hung a sailboat picture on the wall, Reagan loved his jelly beans, Clinton had M&Ms—Trump and Palin get to mark their territory around our Oval Office set. Palin will probably remount the mounted reindeer outside Willow’s bedroom in her Alaska show premiere. A bull might be better suited for Trump. Elk jerky vs. chocolate truffles? The possibilities are endless.
Week 6: Choosing the Running Mates
Will it be a fellow reality star like Bethenny Frankel or The Situation? (Snooki, a big Twitter pal of John McCain, is disqualified for having a police record.) Or will they reach for a more experienced politician like Bloomberg, Romney, or Rand Paul Jr.?
Week 7: The Kitchen Cabinets
Each candidate gets to choose if they’d rather put together their inside political team or redo the West Wing kitchen cabinets.
Season Finale Part 1: I Believe
This dramatic episode is filmed before a live studio audience. First, each candidate gets to challenge the other on a vulnerability. Perhaps it’s that Trump is associated with “You’re Fired” vs. Palin’s “I Quit” (in the middle of her term).
After that round, we move on to the next act that begins with an emotional montage of U.S. presidents who came from outside of politics—Jimmy Carter the peanut farmer, Harry Truman the haberdasher (with all that dramatic reality music of a Burnett show).
Then we enter the final competition. After a coin toss to see who goes first, each presidential candidate is asked to deliver an extemporaneous speech that would begin: “Only in America, could I [Sarah Palin, Donald Trump] run for president.” With weeks of hijinks behind them, we get to hear about the genuine patriotism in each of their hearts.
Season Finale Part 2: The Final Tally
As we know, only one candidate can be president. And, Mark, this is really your moment, your Solomon moment where you must announce which of your reality stars can stay in the Oval Office and which must go home, snuffing out their political fire.
First, we recap the season as each gets a video montage. Next, just when we think you’re about to pick the candidate, there is an Oval Office shocker! Perhaps it’s a live appearance by Laura Bush and/or George! If, and only if, Obama wants to declare he’s not seeking a second term, what better opportunity than this? (After all, the last sitting president to announce that, Lyndon Johnson, made it a surprise to the nation—and the media as well.)
Then, after milking the drama of your final selection, when the audience is out of their minds, you milk the moment even more. Only then, and after the final commercial, you get to pick your president. We see the reactions, intercut with family members pouring on stage, and the audience at fever pitch. Drop confetti, balloons, and roll credits.
Shelley Ross is a three-time Emmy-award-winning producer of ABC’s Good Morning America and PrimeTime Live. She is also author of Fall From Grace: The History of Sex, Scandal and Corruption in American Politics from 1702 to the Present.