Power: Is Ken Smukler for Real?

With Red/Blue, the Philly campaign consultant wants to create an American Idol for the 527-set.

Will TV viewers take to a reality show about politics? The lackluster response last year to Showtime’s American Candidate suggests the vote on the C-SPAN-meets-Supernanny referendum was a resounding no. But Bala Cynwyd-based
political consultant Ken Smukler is betting otherwise.

Smukler, a Democrat who has worked with Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky and City Councilman Rick Mariano, is now shopping around a treatment for Red/Blue, a reality series he developed along with his assistant, Harry Cook, and True Entertainment, the company responsible for such reality hits as Gastineau Girls and A Baby Story. The premise: Each week, politically inclined regular folks from the left and right compete in a series of campaign-­oriented stunts, with one from each wing being eliminated each week. The last Machiavelli standing is the winner.

So what makes this not American Candidate II, which also used competitive campaign stunts? Smukler says that A.C. failed because nothing real was at stake. Thanks to federal laws limiting spending and airtime on behalf of candidates, none of the show’s contestants could really be candidates for anything. “The Showtime approach created a virtual campaign, but then you lose the reality part of reality TV,” Smukler says.

In contrast, the grand prize in Red/Blue will be real clout in the next election cycle — the winner gets $1 million to spend through his or her own 527 group, the class of independent groups that includes ’04 heavyweights Moveon.org and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. “One million dollars in a 527 in ’06 would probably put you in the top 10 individual contributors in that cycle,” marvels Smukler.

No deals have been struck yet, but Smukler says he and his team are optimistic about a number of possible outlets, from MTV to Bravo.  — Sasha Issenberg