Vol. 2, Issue 29, July 27, 2004
DNC Hires Mark Burnett to Try and Liven Things Up
The national conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties, long a staple of the political march to the polls in November, have become virtual coronation ceremonies. With the leading candidates already assured of nomination, the only interest for many viewers lies in seeing which second-stringers are being groomed for the center stage in following years. But all that could change for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) if Mark Burnett has anything to say about it.
"Because so much is riding on this election, we really wanted to make sure we kicked off the campaign with a lot of momentum and buzz," said DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. "Mark Burnett has a fabulous track record in terms of generating interest for reality-based shows, which is, ultimately, what the convention is all about."
Mark Burnett is the creator of such reality-TV shows as Survivor, The Apprentice, and The Restaurant, and has multiple projects in development with several networks. While his addition to the DNC planning team took analysts by surprise, it has generally been seen as a shrewd move on the part of the Democrats.
"Political conventions have always been very carefully orchestrated," said Terence Costello, political science professor at Tulane University. "But this orchestration has always been ad-hoc and heavy-handed to the point where viewers became turned off. The emergence and maturation of the so-called "reality TV" genre has generated a much more sophisticated understanding of the process."
The opening days of the DNC in Boston have already provided surprises and drama not normally present during a political convention.
"It was very exciting when they divided the delegates into tribes and told us we'd be competing for a chance to vote," said Indiana delegate Francine DuBowski. "And I am really interested to see how John Edwards does in the next Immunity Challenge."
Burnett has apparently structured the schedule of the DNC in a loose narrative arc which will culminate in a final dramatic vote on the Democratic candidate for president.
"I can't say much, except that it will be very exciting," said Burnett. "There will be torches, potential candidates already voted off will have a chance to say their bit. It will have all the drama of the first three Survivor seasons, and a touch of the fifth as well, but with much higher stakes. Plus, we may have some surprise celebrity cameos."
Republicans scoffed at what they say is a desperate attempt on the part of the DNC to foster interest in a doomed campaign.
"Burnett may do decent television, but he's just not tapped into the real spirit of America," said Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. "I mean, he's British, for God's sake. Now, we are moving forward with someone who does understand American patriotism: Rupert Murdoch and the heroic Fox network." When it was pointed out that Murdoch is also foreign-born, Gillespie inquired about this reporter's parentage and loyalty, after which the interview came to an abrupt halt.
Despite the naysayers, ratings for the DNC have been at an all-time high, particularly in the all-important 18-35 bracket which advertisers love.
"I am so excited to see what happens, and to see who's chosen to be Democratic presidential candidate," said DuBowski. "With Burnett running the show I feel as if anything could happen."