Beliefnet
Idol Chatter

One of the newest versions of an old TV series is off and running, and I think it shows signs of being the best its ever been–and the most faith-based as well. Like “American Idol,” the losers will dwindle towards the end. And like “American Idol,” they’ll make some bucks on tour. But unlike “American Idol,” these contestents, er, candidates, won’t be singing.

Yes, I’m talking about the 18-month run-up to next year’s election, called “Politics ’08,” “Decision ’08,” “Election ’08,” and a host of other titles by the different networks. For now, we’ll call it “American Non-Idol: Who Wants to be the President?” Two weeks ago, it was the Democratic National Debate. Last week the Republicans had their night. I think we’ll someday look back upon this as we do the early weeks of American Idol: Lots of airtime is given to people who never had a chance at winning, but it carries the ratings and builds interest until the final rounds get closer. And we got a lotta laughs.

Politically speaking, we’re light years from the next election, but in terms of entertainment, the time is now and the market share is growing.

The are 20 candidates so far in “American Non-Idol: The Race for the Presidency.” It makes for good TV, magazine and newspaper sales, web hits, a story to sell, advertising–and as the public we’re going along for the ride. What was once a parlor game for the elite is now the cultural norm for entertainment … and then oh by the way at the end of this reality show, there’s someone who will govern us for 4 years. That’s some prize.

Perhaps by next year, the matter of who will govern will become a real political matter. But for now, I think it’s mostly entertainment, and I’ll enjoy that as long as issues of faith remain at the forefront. At least this parlor game will have purpose until the final episodes arrive next year.

And in the meantime, with Al Gore appearing at the Grammys and Oscars, John McCain on HBO Prime Time, and “Law & Order”s Fred Thompson jumping in while the rest jockey for TV time, we can all stay tuned–as this may be a great mini-series that lasts through November of next year. Unlike “American Idol,” there will be no long break in the action, so perhaps the summer repeat season will be a good time for you to tune in. This race is wide open, and perhaps we’ll have a deeper conversation about the thin line between the politics that entertain us and the entertainment that politics is becoming.

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