Murdoch's TV network seeks Idol president

And now, the ultimate TV reality show: a Pop Idol-style contest in which viewers pick a winner to run as "People's Candidate" for US President in 2004. It sounds like satire, but isn't. It is, instead, an utterly serious plan hatched by Rupert Murdoch's FX cable network.

The idea is that any American qualified for the most powerful job in the world can submit an application, together with a video pitch extolling their own presidential suitability, and signatures from 50 supporters. A panel of experts will then choose 100 candidates, two from each state, to appear in the 13-week series.

During subsequent shows, candidates will compete against each other in debates and tests, such as deciding whether or not to use "dirty" research to attack other contestants. Points won, plus telephone voting by viewers, will decide who goes forward.

The final episode will be an American Candidate convention, held in Washington DC in July 2004, when viewers will choose between three finalists. The winner will then decide whether to launch an official campaign and, if they do, the series will follow their progress until election day.

Each show will be broadcast live from iconic locations, such as Mount Rushmore or the Statue of Liberty. The producer, RJ Cutler, said: "Maybe a young Abe Lincoln will emerge from this. We're looking for people who share our conviction that America was designed to be a country where any little boy or girl ... could grow up to be President. That's what we believe is the essence of American democracy." According to Variety FX cable has recruited Cutler and Jay Roach, director of the Austin Powers series, to work on American Candidate, for launch next year.

FX currently averages three million or more viewers for its most popular entertainment series. But shows that capture the public imagination can draw far higher audiences: the final of the US version of Pop Idol scored 22.5m.

Absurd it all may be. But can a British version – to choose the next Conservative leader, perhaps – be far behind?

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