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Brownback, Gonzalez to Meet Reality TV Execs

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) have agreed to meet with Hollywood executives interested in producing a reality television show focusing on the lives of a group of twenty-something Capitol Hill aides.

Representatives from Vin Di Bona Productions plan to visit Washington within the next month to talk with Brownback and Gonzalez, as well as a handful of aides and lobbyists, to outline the concept of their show. The show would feature a group house of staffers from various parts of the political world.

Scott Jackson, manager of development for Vin Di Bona, is vowing that he wants to depict the political scene in a “family-friendly” way rather than seek a scandalous tone.

“We want to show [Capitol Hill] in the most positive light we can,” said Jackson. “We respect the job that Congressmen and Senators do, and we just want to show the hard work that goes into the job.”

Reassuring Members that the show will not follow the same script as other racy reality TV programming will be the Tinseltown executives’ biggest challenge as they seek to launch the program later this year.

Some Members have already turned a cold shoulder to the idea, saying such a show is likely to cast lawmakers and staffers in a negative light. Indeed, Brownback was a skeptic when he first heard that Hollywood was developing a Capitol Hill reality series.

But the Kansas Republican, who himself has pitched Hollywood on a reality show about people overcoming hardships, has agreed to sit down with the Vin Di Bona representatives to hear their pitch.

“They were saying some of the things I was putting forward were along the lines of what they were thinking about, which was pleasantly surprising to me,” said Brownback, who added he’s been told “this would be different than the kind of exploited sex and intrigue type of program that we had in these reality television shows. It would be more looking at it from a way of how real people handle real problems up here on the Hill.”

Adrian Saenz, a spokesman for Gonzalez, said the Texas Democrat “is willing to sit down with them and learn more about the project.”

But Saenz added that, for now, the lawmaker is not ready to let any camera crews follow one of his staffers. “I don’t think he is willing to make a commitment right now,” he said.

Peter Schankowitz, executive vice president of development for Vin Di Bona, said he envisions a program that shows an aide “chasing a Congressman with an important paper down a hallway” as well as an “aide talking to his girlfriend who is upset he can’t get home to see her.”

Schankowitz said the show’s cast would number about eight or nine people and be drawn from Congress, law and lobbying offices, as well as other professions related to politics. An essential element of the show would be to include varying political viewpoints in the house.

“It is not going to be a dirty reality television show, it is going to show real people doing real work,” Schankowitz insisted.

Part of his pitch, Schankowitz said, will be to lay out Di Bona’s production history as well as his own television credits. In fact, Schankowitz and Jackson both repeatedly point to “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” a staple of ABC’s prime-time lineup, as an example of Di Bona’s “family-friendly programming.”

The Di Bona representatives have enlisted the aid of two well-known lobbyists to help them navigate Washington’s legislative and social channels.

Jack Abramoff, senior director of government affairs at Greenberg Traurig, said securing the meetings with Brownback and Gonzalez is “certainly a positive step forward for them.

“I think there is a growing interest on the Hill in this, but there is still a lot of questions,” said Abramoff, himself a Hollywood veteran whose resume includes producing the Cold War movie “Red Scorpion.” “Washington has a natural queasiness about Hollywood, and overcoming that would be the biggest challenge.”

Gene Godley, a partner with Bracewell & Patterson, is also helping Di Bona and agreed with Abramoff. He said there is good chance people will embrace the show.

“I think there is a lot of interest and public receptivity to it, and I think that is what gives it a chance,” he said.

Erik Smith, a top aide to Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) presidential campaign, has also agreed to meet with Schankowitz and Jackson to advise them on Washington’s ways. But Smith said he has no desire to be on the show and “doesn’t foresee” Gephardt allowing one of his Congressional staffers to join the cast.

“I don’t think this is an opportunity for me to get on prime-time TV,” said the 33-year-old Smith. “I think I am a little bit out of the demographic.

“My assistance will be strictly off camera,” he added.

Schankowitz said they will begin shopping the show to the networks this summer and predicted that, if all goes well, it could begin airing in the fall or early next year.

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