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Lawmakers Will Have Input on Reality Show

Hoping to overcome Capitol Hill’s perception of reality television, a Hollywood producer developing a show about Congress said he would allow lawmakers to provide input on what appears on the air.

Peter Schankowitz, executive vice president of development for Vin Di Bona Productions, said this should help alleviate the fears that many people on Capitol Hill have about his goal of producing a reality television show that chronicles the lives of young Hill aides.

“It is really a balance issue where I am going to have to make editorial choices along with the broadcaster and along with the office to say what goes into the show,” Schankowitz said in a recent interview. “I am not going to offer them veto power over content, but I am going to offer them meaningful consultation.”

The balance Schankowitz refers to relates to images of staffers that might reflect poorly on the Representative or Senator they work for. Schankowitz claimed “a line will be drawn about what I am willing to show and what I am not willing to show and what I am willing to edit and not willing to edit,” a theme he echoed in a half-dozen meetings held with top aides and lawmakers late last month.

Schankowitz and Scott Jackson, manager of development for Vin Di Bona, met with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.); Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) chief of staff, Veronica Sullivan; Erik Smith, a top aide to Rep. Richard Gephardt’s (D-Mo.) presidential campaign; and a handful of lobbyists.

There is concern among people on Capitol Hill that a reality television show will inaccurately portray the young aides by trying to capture salacious moments in their day-to-day lives.

“I would want to have pretty strong assurances from them that they would stay on point with what they are describing,” Brownback said on whether he would allow an aide to participate in the reality show.

Still, Brownback said he thinks the show could be successful if the Vin Di Bona representatives stayed true to the pitch they made to him.

“There is an interest in the country on what takes place here,” Brownback said. “I can see them having a decent show that would have a pretty good run, but they really need to hold to what they say they would do.”

Jackson said the show would center on a group house occupied by Congressional aides and other young people living in the D.C. area. The idea is to capture these people at work, providing viewers with a window into the inner-workings of Capitol Hill.

“It is not reality TV like they think or how they have seen reality in the past,” said Jackson, stressing that it would not follow the plot lines of recent reality productions that highlighted sex and violence. “We are going forward with a new concept.”

The pitch, though, fell on deaf ears for at least one of the Members. A spokesman for Weiner said the New York Democrat’s chief of staff did meet with Schankowitz and Jackson, but added, “We are not inclined to participate.”

Still, Schankowitz described his meetings in Washington as “successful” and is now in the process of pitching the show to the networks and cable outlets.

“It is hard to convince people of something like this over the phone, so it was really worth spending the effort and the money to come [to Washington],” he said. “We were able to look some people in the eye and answer their questions, which is the most important part.”

Schankowitz said if the show sells, it could begin airing by the end of the year.

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