MySpace users may run for office

Times Staff Writer

Reality-show pioneer Mark Burnett is making another run at combining the breadth of the Web with the big money of TV.

Burnett is planning to use to find contestants for a proposed TV show focused on politics that would air early next year as the race for president heats up.

Other television shows have made extensive use of websites for promotion. Burnett set out last year to start “Gold Rush” on AOL with hopes of migrating it to CBS, although the broadcast TV component never materialized. Now, Burnett, whose credits include such TV blockbusters as “The Apprentice” and “Survivor,” is trying to sell one of the major networks on “Independent,” which he said would be the first full-length series built on a major Internet platform -- making it something of a Holy Grail in the converging entertainment industry.


As part of the series, MySpace users would run for office by submitting videos and conducting virtual campaigns for votes. The top 100 or so would make it to the TV series, which would end with debates. The winner would get $1 million to give away.

“We’ve been pitched over the years on a lot of television shows, and we’ve rejected every one. This instantly clicked,” said MySpace Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe. “A lot of people think the younger generation doesn’t care about politics, and we’ve just empirically seen that not to be true.”

Because of MySpace’s desirable young demographic profile, “this has got a very good chance of being a nice synergy between social networking and prime-time TV,” Burnett said.

DeWolfe had already been pushing MySpace into more political areas: Every major presidential candidate has a profile, and MySpace’s users can post buttons facilitating donations to those running. Those are the only donation tools allowed thus far, although nonprofits should get similar treatment soon.

“Obviously, it will be influenced by mainstream politics, but I think mainstream politics will be influenced by ‘Independent,’ ” said Jeff Berman, a former Capitol Hill staffer now running MySpace’s video efforts. Candidates, he said, could use the program to attract young voters.

Burnett said he didn’t yet have a commitment to air the show on Fox, which like MySpace is owned by News Corp., or on another network.