LOS ANGELES, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Some historians regard Dwight D. Eisenhower as America's first television president, while others think it was John F. Kennedy. But an upcoming new show on the FX cable channel might give the country its first true TV president by allowing viewers to choose a "people's candidate" in 2004.
The announcement that FX, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. media conglomerate, will televise "American Candidate" naturally leads one to wonder -- what if the candidate wins?
However, an assortment of political and media professionals are fairly certain that won't happen.
"It won't happen because it can't happen," said Mike Schroeder, a former chairman of the Republican Party of California.
Plans call for the "American Candidate" winner to be named around July 4, 2004. As Schroeder reads the political calendar that would be too late for the "people's candidate" to get on the November ballot in most of the 50 states.
"There is a process to be a qualified write-in that you have to do," said Schroeder, "and those deadlines would have passed."
C-SPAN -- a non-profit channel operated by the cable TV industry to provide public access to the political process -- generally takes a rather serious approach to presidential politics. But C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully said "American Candidate" would probably be worthwhile if it generates interest in the political process.
Is TV playing with fire by turning the political process into a game show?
"I don't think so," said Scully. "I think people who watch these types of programs are pretty smart and pretty savvy. Whoever wins this program isn't going to be president. But it would give people who don't watch C-Span or CNN a little bit of a window into how politics works."
Schroeder said the "American Candidate" might be able to run on a third party ticket, which raises the question: Is it possible that a third party could figure out a way to hook up with the winner and mount a serious challenge to the two major parties?
"We cover a lot of the third party candidates," said Scully. "If the Green, Libertarian or Socialist party figures out a way that they can have an impact, more power to them. I think it just adds another voice to the agenda, and I think in a way that's a good thing. There are a lot of third parties with a lot of good ideas and they never get heard."
Regardless of whether the TV show winner has a realistic chance at the White House in 2004, Schroeder said the candidate would benefit from "a tremendous amount of earned media" -- a term of art political professionals use to describe free publicity.
"The kind of burst that you could get from something like that will allow you to run for something else," he said. "Take the example of Ronald Reagan, who was a movie star and a TV star. He translated that into a successful run for governor of California and went on to become president."
Scully suggested that a "people's candidate" who mounted a "serious, credible effort" might even have an impact on the campaign, by providing a wake-up call to the major parties.
"The hope is that they spend some time debating issues," said Scully. "Maybe they need to have ("Meet the Press" moderator) Tim Russert come in and ... ask tough questions."
"American Candidate" producer R.J. Cutler told Daily Variety he wants the show to produce a serious candidate.
"We're trying to see if there's a young Abe Lincoln out there," said Cutler, "somebody whose vision could turn on the public in an exciting way."
It will be up to the winner to decide whether to wage an official campaign for the White House.
But Bob Mulholland, chief consultant to the Democratic Party of California, predicted the show will have no impact on the political process.
"It's just Hollywood," said Mulholland. "Let's not take it too seriously here. Hollywood is just Hollywood. At the end of the day they don't appoint judges. They don't vote on defense spending."
Because it is Hollywood, "American Candidate" is not guaranteed to remain on the air if it doesn't connect with viewers.
"Maybe it will be around for a month," said Mulholland, "maybe it will be around for a year. Either way, in November 2004 we will have a real presidential election."
Schroeder suggested that, in the end, the show will be more about entertainment than politics.
"What they ought to do," he said, "is put up the winner of 'American Idol' and call it a day."
For the record, that won't fly. The Constitution says you have to be 35 to be president. "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson, 20, won't be eligible until 2017.