ABC television has just announced that it will unveil a new survivor reality series, "Occupy Whatever!" based on the popular Occupy movement that has popped up in scores of cities across America and is proving to have universal appeal -- not just in the U.S. but also London. (A new group calling itself Occupy Tahiti has just emerged in Papeete, protesting a 2.3 decline in orchid production. A further outrage is that a major Tahitian export, vanilla, is owned by one percent of Tahitians.)
"We think this thing has real legs," said Jarvis T. Bimstein, vice president of reality programming at ABC-TV. "We even test-marketed a couple of Occupy Whatever! shows in Duluth, Minn., and Vallejo, Calif., that had great numbers. It's going to be the next big thing on TV."
The concept, as Bimstein explains it, would be to see which protester ends up surviving the longest in all the encampments around America (licensed by the network) that have begun to attract diverse demonstrators -- freelance homeless people, colorful drug addicts, gifted sidewalk performers, unemployed sign-painters, radical college professors, and random loonies.
The movement has engaged the public and fascinated the press, whose non-stop coverage of the Occupy movement first suggested to Bimstein that there just might be a TV series in the phenomenon. "We decided to strike now while the country's attention is still riveted on the actual Occupiers," he said.
The cast of the pilot show, comprised of protesters drawn at random from actual encampments, will set up their tents and attempt to out-last each other while fending off mock police raids that want to shut them down, adding to the dramatic impact.
Those demonstrators voted off the park or plaza will be forced to leaver the encampment, but not before delivering a snarky comment or two about their fellow survivor hopefuls. On the test-marketed Duluth show, semi-finalist Dotty Cranshaw, 34, endured a brutal early-winter snowstorm, a robbery, several sexual predators and a rabid pit bull in the adjoining tent. Cranshaw lasted six weeks with only a small he plate, a few blankets, and a well-thumbed copy of People magazine.
When her plight was featured on YouTube, Cranshaw was contacted by ABC-TV and asked if she would be willing to appear on "Occupy Whatever!" As Bimstein recalled, "She told me, 'Hey, dude, why not? It's a pay day.'" After signing a routine release form, Cranshaw was flown to Hollywood to appear on the debut "Occupy Whatever!" show that begins Dec. 15 at 9 pm/8 Central.
Cranshaw will be stationed on a traffic island in West Los Angeles competing against retired sidewalk mime Fred Flanders, street people Jack R. (Big Mac) McDingle and Ella Grady. English teacher Joel. C. Ashberg and a prominent guest protester to be named later -- possibly Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan fulfilling a community service gig picking up on-site trash.
Viewers will watch protesters interacting in various realistic situations before deciding which participants should be voted off the traffic island. In the Vallejo, Calif., test run, when a small fire broke out in one of the tents near city hall, inhabitants of the camp were forced to react. Fran Ranter, a student protester who slept through the fire, was asked to leave the encampment, but not before she explained her actions to the camera. In a trembling voice, Ranter said:
"I've done nothing to warrant being voted off. It's just so darn unfair! Anyone could fall asleep in this weather. It's freezing out here." Ranter vowed to return in another "Occupy Whatever!" protest site in Burbank.
She claimed other female protesters were jealous of her good looks, but a woman in a nearby tent said, "She's just a bitch and nobody out here liked her. You call what she did -- holding an upside-down sign -- protesting? She was an embarrassment to the entire camp from the moment she showed up with her stupid cat."
Bimstein noted that Occupiers will need to be ready to react to any and all challenges to determine which protesters will be eligible for the final showdown, to be telecast from the Hollywood Bowl before several thousand fans cheering on their favorite finalists.
A few of the difficult situations contestants will be forced to deal with in coming weeks include a simulated 5.7 earthquake and tsunami, speeches by local politicians trying to grab some TV face time, confused pizza delivery boys and a dangerous outbreak of folksingers. Protesters who fail to make the final cut will still be eligible to participate in out-of-town road-show encampments.
Bimstein said that several sponsors for the series have been lined up -- the Coleman lantern company, Eddie Bauer, a trail mix distributor and two porta-potty companies. Bimstein points out that not only will the new show draw a cross-section of viewers but will also provide part-time employment for many out of work protesters. "We feel we're giving something back to the country," the ABC executive remarked.
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