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‘The Barack Obama Show’

What the presidential hopeful might do with his slice of prime-time network TV.


Illustration by Zohar Lazar  

On October 29, presidential candidate Barack Obama will air his own TV show: 30 minutes on CBS, NBC, and Fox, bought for nearly $3 million. Content has yet to be disclosed, so we asked some experts for creative suggestions.

Mike McCurry, political consultant:
For three minutes, remind us of all that audaciousness that got this election going. He might say, “Been a lot of noise in this campaign, some of it nasty, and you deserve a break. I’m going to share my favorite tunes from my iPod and some great photos of the campaign for the next 27 minutes. Let’s reflect about America and our shared history.” If nothing else, McCain would lose a half-hour to run negative ads.

Bruce Campbell, actor:
A low-budget horror movie called Barackula: He sucks the life out of Republicans.

Bill Maher, TV host:
A game show, Spread the Wealth, where lazy, do-nothing contestants vie for the hard-earned wages of decent Americans. But the way things are looking, Obama could just let McCain rant and rave, and call it Old Yeller.

A. J. Jacobs, author:
Re-air the Newhart finale. Everybody loved it! Give the people what they want.

Jane Espenson, writer-producer, Battlestar Galactica:
Barack, in a Viper spacecraft, battles enemy nukes with precise bursts of Lugar-Obama nonproliferation legislation (backlit graphics), then faces a dangerous doppelgänger (motion-control split screen), and, finally, fights McCain in hand-to-hand combat, employing some wild Buffy-style moves (stunt work, CG replacement). Defeated, a furious McCain bursts into a spectacular shower of dust. (Not a special effect.)

Chuck Klosterman, journalist:
Reunite the Smiths. “If I can get these guys to sit down …”

Kevin Smith, director of Zack & Miri Make a Porno:
Dude’s got a massive war chest: He needs to drop some Orson Wellesian “War of the Worlds” on us. Calmly tell America that the saucers have landed in the Arctic Circle (or somewhere that the media can’t immediately debunk), and cut to “satellite footage” (courtesy of ILM) of bloodthirsty moon-men chowing down on penguins, hungry for human flesh. At this point he could terrify this country into a state of violent panic and still get elected.

Alison Becker, comedian:
The Obama Factor: He faces life-affirming challenges—parachute blindfolded, tame a lion, back up a hard drive, reconcile a gay college student with his homophobic roommate—all in 30 minutes. Who says he’s not a man of action?

Kevin Allison, comedian:
Team up with Oprah, and give all undecideds a new car.

James Toback, director:
Have experts ask him questions: Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, Harold Bloom on Shakespeare. Sort of like an infomercial, selling the presidency. But no hot women. So far, Obama has been naturally sexy without being even mildly threatening and I think that’s been very effective. Let’s face it, at this point he’d have to engage in soft-core porno exhibitionism to lose the race.

Kevin Bleyer, writer, The Daily Show:
“Hello. I’m Barack Obama. Only in America can my story be told. A skinny kid with a funny name. Son of a Kenyan goatherder. And one of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. Justify that, J. J. Abrams!”

David Blaine, magician:
We dress Barack like Gandhi and put him in the middle of a jungle in Papua New Guinea with a group of isolated natives. He does simple miracles—walking on water, swimming on land. He teaches them hopscotch. One day, he summons a whale into their river, jumps inside, and disappears. A bobblehead Obama doll floats to the surface. He is immortalized as their savior.

Dean Winters, actor:
Obama-Palin Jell-O wrestling.

Jim Johnston, producer, Real World:
I’d make him live as a homeless person on the streets of New York. I can’t think of a more humbling experience than walking in the shoes of America’s most despised and downtrodden.

Tony Kushner, playwright:
He could assail the malignant crap in these robocalls and the things these depraved people are saying about him. And I think it's time to really talk about the extent to which this is really about racism and stop pretending that this is all somehow in a never-never land where race is not an issue. Then again, you could do Tina Fey as Sarah Palin for half an hour and I don't think anyone would complain.

James Franco, actor:
Somebody sent me this statistic, like, if they can get just 50 percent of 18-to-22-year-olds to vote, that would be breaking a record. So, make an MTV video?

Jeffrey Ross, comedian:
I think Barack should agree to be the honoree of a roast. What better way to show voters that he is a humble man? Proceeds from ticket sales would go to charity. On the dais would be me, Oprah, Colin Powell, Jamie Foxx, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, and, of course, Joe the Plumber. By enduring a gauntlet of jokes about his big ears, his long speeches, and his lousy jump shot, Barack could prove to the nation he is a good sport. Plus he’d get to go on at the end and rip everybody there a new one. As my poker pal Norby always says, “Never too big!”

Rob Sheffield, journalist:
I think it should be the half-hour Obama goth night. He’s really the first goth presidential candidate since Franklin Pierce. And I feel like since “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is such an easy song to play and an easy song to stretch out to 30 minutes, he should wear a cape and light some candles and, you know, get some dancing Goths for Obama.

Doug Hughes, director of Farragut North:
Obama should follow Elaine May's priceless show-business adage that "the only safe thing is to take a chance" and devote his pricey 30 minutes of prime time to an utterly unscripted live broadcast of his free ranging discussion of the state of the union with Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. Joe the Plumber. The pair could crack open a couple of beers in Joe's Toledo kitchen and talk taxes, health care, withdrawal timetables, the Second Amendment, and the bailout. No pundits, no voice-overs, no syrupy inspirational Muzak. A half an hour later I believe much will have been done to heal the cultural schism Senator McCain and Governor Palin are cynically hoping might deliver them this election. Obama will have made the sale. He'd have Joe's vote and the White House.

Donna Brazile, strategist:
Barack Show: The Amazing Race
Millions of viewers watch as Team Obama races around the country in The Amazing Race. Never knowing where they’ll go next or what they’ll have to do once there, Team Obama will be put to the ultimate test as they work together to stay ahead of the rest. One by one, teams will be eliminated. The first team to cross the finish line will win a new job and two rent-free mansions for four years. (My apologies to CBS.)

Extreme Makeover: Obama Edition
Put together one very run-down Oval Office, a deserving country, the Obama administration, four years, and what do you get? The answer is Extreme Makeover: Obama Edition. A race against time, each self-contained episode begins with team leader Barack Obama’s wake-up call as he, along with his administration, a Democratic-controlled Congress, and an energized populace pleasantly surprises an unsuspecting country with the news that an issue has been resolved with common-sense solutions. Then viewers witness not only the unbelievable transformation of the Oval Office, but during the final and emotional reveal, they see how the makeover has positively impacted the lives of a deserving country. (My apologies to ABC.)

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