John Klossner

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Must-stimulate TV

I have to admit to a little disappointment in this administration's efforts to provide transparency in the stimulus spending. This is a group of folks who have shown themselves -- through the long campaign and in the short time they have been in charge -- to be tech-savvy, innovative and in touch with the culture of communications. Their plan to publicize the stimulus plans through their website,, is nice but falls far short of what we've come to expect from people fully aware of the capabilities of a Web 2.0 world.

Especially when the situation so clearly cries out for a reality television show.

Think about how many problems this could solve. Besides making the stimulus data accessible to more non-technology-abled citizens, it would bring families and communities together as they congregate around the newest must-see TV to watch where their tax dollars are going. It could help shore up whatever network it appears on, giving a much-needed boost to the dying television industry (one would probably assume that this show would be on PBS, but I propose that it rotates, with whatever network has the lowest ratings each rating period gets this show for the next one).

In addition to making the stimulus data accessible to more people, this show would generate rooting interests in the spending itself. It could provide an education opportunity, as children would join their families to watch, and indirectly learn about the economy.

Here are some of the specifics I've come up with for my pitch so far:

Working Title: Follow the Money
(Other possible titles: Nickel and Dimed, Trickle Down with The Donald, Brother Can You Spare a Trillion?)

Host: This is my biggest challenge. I'd like someone with entertainment value who has a "widely diverse" history with personal finances. Donald Trump comes to mind, but he is already overexposed, and it might make take away from the show's potential seriousness (although it would make for a great running gag of him trying to take some stimulus money for himself every week, and getting caught in a variety of embarrassing situations). Mickey Rourke might be a good fit, as he is the current celebrity face of recovery and comeback, but that would run up production expenses by having to hire extra editors. The show might be better served by having a hosting team comprised of an economic expert and an unemployed non-celebrity who, based on his financial experiences, can connect with the viewers. (Added bonus: The non-celeb will now have a job.)

We could also have a lead-in reality show featuring discredited financial executives, whose companies have gone under, trying out for the hosting position on our show. A simple "start with 13, whittle down to one or two" format -- another possible network boost. (Note to self: develop pitch for another new show which will follow the prison careers of the losers on this show.)

(Note to self: If Bernard Madoff says yes, forget other host possibilities.)

Sponsorship: This show should not overlook the revenue possibilities of advertising. I propose a mixture of local and national advertising, but no ads from AIG.

(Note: could we use station breaks for economic educational tidbits? Vocabulary, trivia, music videos? Think "Schoolhouse Rock" for adults. Just an idea.)

Setting: The show is set in one of two locations -- Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. This allows us to have a shot of a container of money being thrown over the precipice when we cut to another scene. (Note: make sure the bills are loose, so the image includes a cloud of bills flying in the air as the container goes out of sight.)

There will also be a prominently featured monitor, with a graphic depicting how the various markets are reacting to the spending proposed on the show. With lots of sound effects.

Contestants: A fed agency rep, a Fortune 500 executive, a bank official, a local official, and an unemployed school teacher.

Premise: Each contestant starts with 50 million dollars. With this as a budget, they create a proposal for how they would use the money. They produce a video of the project, which gets aired on the show. (The administration can archive these on, since they paid for the URL.) After viewing the videos, the studio and viewing audience get to vote (background music: "We're in the Money") on which contestant's project / proposal is the best. Contestant getting the fewest votes is eliminated, and receives one million dollars in pennies as a parting gift. (Note to self: develop pitch for new show which will follow the prison careers of these people.) The remaining contestants move on to the second round, where they get a 100 million dollar budget. This continues (with the budget doubling in each successive round) until there is one remaining contestant, who enters the final segment, called the "Checkout Line," which is comprised of having to spend one billion dollars in 3 minutes.

(Note: Between rounds, feature biographies of each contestant are aired. These will include a look at the best and worst financial decision they've made in their lives.)

The "Checkout Line" has extra excitement. The home and studio audiences have instant feedback capabilities, allowing them to shoot down any proposals they don't like in this round. They have also been notified that they will get to split amongst themselves any money that is not spent in this round, ensuring that the final contestant will try to spend as quickly as possible, before the audience can stop them.

The winner gets to spend what money they have left and return on the following season's show, if they are not incarcerated in the meantime.

(Note: if successful, I can envision this format being used at local levels, featuring state officials, local officials, etc.)

As you can see, this idea is still in its incubation phase. I appreciate any comments or suggestions that will assist in its development.

Posted by John Klossner on Mar 17, 2009 at 12:18 PM


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