PUBLICIST: 'Candidate' boosts Showtime's campaign to impress the public

Somewhere in the congratulatory din accompanying HBO's 124 Emmy nominations was the faint sound of something nipping at the cable king's heels.

Somewhere in the congratulatory din accompanying HBO's 124 Emmy nominations was the faint sound of something nipping at the cable king's heels.

Sure, Showtime's 18 nominations may seem paltry in comparison, but it's a respectable showing for a revamped, up-and-coming network HBO must keep its eye on. Whereas Showtime once made some 40 films a year, its new emphasis on fewer but better film projects and unconventional dramatic series is paying off. Richard Licata, who took over PR operations for the network earlier this year, has aggressively pursued media outreach through early screenings for influential writers and critics and by placing greater emphasis on day-to-day staff contact with the press. Showtime's recent presentation at the Television Critics Association conference had critics buzzing over several new offerings, including The American Candidate, a reality show that reveals behind-the-scenes aspects of politicking through a simulated Presidential campaign. I had the pleasure of accompanying the Candidate bus this summer as it barnstormed across the East Coast in a series of primaries and contests that continue in LA this fall. From New Hampshire to New York, 10 candidates spoke about issues ranging from terrorism to healthcare. One political expert after another was surprised and impressed at the ability of these contestants to articulate their positions, stand up to tough and sometimes belligerent feedback from voters and focus groups, and endure the grueling 18-hour days that are a hallmark of modern campaigning. It was one of the most interesting - and important - projects I've ever been involved with. The US ranks in the bottom 20% globally in voter turnout. Perhaps this show will foster debate around the water cooler and help to galvanize the electorate in November. Media response has been terrific - The Washington Post, LA Times, Entertainment Weekly, Access Hollywood, the AP, and many others have covered the show, which premiered last Sunday. In an era where TV has mostly sensationalized the political process, Candidate aims to instead elevate the level of debate and increase our understanding of the election process. Tune in. Maybe you'll hear someone talk about an issue that the real candidates ignore. Whether the show will be as colorful as the language of Dick Cheney and Teresa Heinz Kerry, well, we'll have to see. Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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