Turning on "The Capitalism Show"

By Joe Schembrie
web posted August 28, 2000

Now that television has given us a show about cannibalism, how about a show about capitalism?

Congratulations Mr. Hatch
Congratulations Mr. Hatch

No, the ratings-smashing summer series 'Survivor' wasn't overtly about cannibalism, but the basic philosophy of a zero-sum game, where one person wins and the rest are losers, was essentially the same as cannibalism.

Ironically, people think the same of capitalism -- "Eat or be eaten," "It's a dog-eat-dog world" -- but if you were to pitch to TV network executives a Reality-Based Show concept about producing wealth rather than fighting over it, their reaction would likely be, "There's not enough dramatic conflict."

Most of us know that there is some truth to that. We rail against the supposed amorality of titans of industry and avidly watch soap operas about business people cutting one another's throats, but we sense that the real business world is one part competition and nine parts cooperation -- a little too mundane and cerebral to attract a national television audience.

Well, maybe, but it would be worth a try.

What I have in mind could be called, 'The Capitalism Show.' It would present a group of real people starting a real business and trying to make a go of it, while cameras follow them around, recording their decisions and actions, their dreams and frustrations.

And there is, of course, an ulterior motive in my suggesting such a television series.

I think it would be great if the average person were educated on what the free market system is all about. Maybe then liberal Democrats would get fewer votes the next time they make slams against business people. Maybe conservative Republicans would get more votes when they point out that the true source of material wealth in society comes from the innovation of the business community.

A television program about the real business world would be an ideal platform to get this message out -- providing that it could be presented in an entertaining way.

SurvivorHmm, first of all we'd have to choose the right people -- young and telegenic entrepreneurs, of course, would have sex appeal. But we want older people and minorities, so that others can identify as well. All would have to be smart go-getters.

Having a bunch of programmers coding in a windowless room all day long isn't likely to garner high ratings, no matter how heavily it's edited. So the business would have to be something that socially relates to the public -- say, a theme restaurant.

The program would provide seed money, but it would be up to the business partners to make a go of their enterprise. Perhaps, for the sake of story conflict, there could be two competing businesses, two restaurants across the street from one another. To encourage a sense of audience involvement, the audience could be invited to vote on crucial business decisions through a toll-free number or web site. If the ratings provided working capital for the business, the entrepreneurs would also have an incentive to make the program as interesting as possible.

Well, I don't know if a concept like 'The Capitalism Show' is ready to attract a general audience of millions. But maybe we're ready to see something like this develop over the Internet on a more specialized level -- say, specifically for shareholders. Today, corporate stockholders are often in the dark about the internal workings of the company they're investing in. Their only knowledge about what's going on comes from tightly-choreographed quarterly reports and shareholder's meeting. But what if investors could watch a weekly webcast digest of goings-on in the corporate suite? And what if the executives did not control the cameras? And what if shareholders could vote for corporate policy weekly or even daily, right at their computers?

It would be a whole new wild, free-wheeling free market system. No longer could it appear that corporations are a faceless 'Them.' Quite plainly, it would be seen that average people can and do control the corporate world.

As Al Gore's convention speech made clear, socialism has survived the Cold War. But could it survive a ratings war with capitalism? Probably not. Capitalism, with its freedom and creativity, has got to be far more interesting to watch than socialism. Head to head, competing for television viewers, capitalism would triumph and socialism would be canceled.

Which might be the best reason why the whole business world should go Hollywood.

Joe Schembrie is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right and can be reached at joeschembrie@enterstageright.com.

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