It’s time for President Obama to place a call to some of Hollywood’s top reality TV producers and convince them to join the federal government. The president needs to prevail on their sense of patriotism and tell them their country needs them.
Just as he would try to persuade a former general making a fortune at Lockheed Martin to take a pay cut and become Secretary of Defense, he needs to use the same tack to get a Mike Darnell or Mark Burnett or Michael Hirschorn to become humble public servants.
With all kinds of financial problems, the government has an untapped avenue to bring in needed revenue: reality TV. It’s sitting on a bevy of material that would make for gripping shows and could launch bidding wars between networks, yielding huge rights fees that could go right to cutting the deficit.
With TNT, AMC and USA becoming the latest to realize that reality TV is a must-have for certain cable networks, the opportunity to raise money is only getting riper. And, there are conceits in every crevice of the government to fill multiple networks’ prime-time schedules.
There should be “Archive Stars” on the History channel, following charismatic archivists -- yes, it would be a difficult casting process -- as they catalogue and discover treasures.
There should be “Project Runway: FAA” on Lifetime, going up-close with female air traffic controllers as they struggle and juggle to make sure planes land safely one after the other.
There should be “Top Chef: Embassies” on Bravo, gathering lead chefs from U.S. embassies around the globe for culinary competitions.
There should be “State Department: Storybook Weddings” on Oxygen, following diplomats as they seek to ink treaties between foes. (So what if they fail. That would only show how tough it is to get two parties to the altar and add to the drama.)
But, with all due respect, the effort to turn the government into a reality TV financial juggernaut can’t have some undersecretary in the Department of Commerce as its leader. In order to deliver on its commercial promise, it needs a proven hit-maker, who knows the ins and outs of the development and production process as its czar.
The government needs a chief executive like Fox reality chief Darnell -- or Burnett (King of All Reality) -- or Hirschorn, who transformed VH1 with reality smashes. If the job reaches cabinet level, some might argue for Brian Graden, a former president at MTV Networks, as a nominee.
Even if President Obama spearheads the effort, Republicans can surely get behind it. It's a creative way to bring in needed federal revenue without raising taxes. The program should more than pay for itself.
Now, some conservatives heavy on family values may have issues with some of the past down-market fare from Darnell, Burnett or Hirschorn. But, look on the flip side. Darnell oversees a show called “American Idol”; Burnett produced “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”; and Hirschorn was behind “Larry the Cable Guy's Star-Studded Christmas Extravaganza,” showing his appreciation for red-state America.
There have been documentary-type shows involving federal government operations such as “Border Wars” on National Geographic Channel. And TNT has a show coming that follows the Coast Guard in Alaska, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But, there is so much more intriguing, never-seen and little-known stuff going on across the bureaucracy outside the military/law enforcement genre.
Most of it is hardly confidential. And if it is, producers can easily work around that. Reporters have been joining the military as embeds in war zones for years and honoring requests not to publicize certain things.
There will, however, have to be a major shift in Washington philosophy to make this initiative a financial boon. For years, the Pentagon has been willing to help Hollywood make lucrative blockbusters in exchange for simple assurances that the Armed Forces come off as heroes. It's been part of image-building efforts.
The same may be true with a show about border agents or the Coast Guard. This has to stop. You think Disney or Paramount wouldn’t pay for access and advice to make top-grossing films, or cable networks for engrossing reality fare?
Yes, they would. That’s just reality.