Get ready for the most out-there pitch Steve Lipscomb has had since creating the world’s first poker league and igniting a full-house TV boom as founder of World Poker Tour.
The lawyer-turned-producer/director/entrepreneur, and NorthSouth Productions partner Mark Hickman are in the market and meeting with broadcast and cable networks about Born to Run, a reality competition show that promises to launch candidacies for one Democrat and one Republican in the 2016 Presidential election.
Born to Run, produced by Lipscomb’s Practicrats LLC and NorthSouth Prods. will kick off a search in summer 2015 for two candidates voted on by viewers a la American Idol. Once the candidates have been selected, a team of political powerbrokers will guide them through the New Hampshire primary.
“Unlike the experience of being at every network with World Poker Tour being told that no one would ever watch poker, every room we’re in now understands that this is bigger than big and will change not just the television format but our very notion of democracy,” Lipscomb told B&C.
It’s a big idea to be sure, but Lipscomb suggests it’s just the thing that can stand out amid the fray today, tapping the ever-growing power of social media at a time when every network in the land could use a noisy, potential ratings grabber. What’s more, he speaks passionately about the possibility of the program making a difference in the political process. Get him going and he’ll offer stat after stat underscoring what he sees as a critical need for change.
“While we may disagree about many things, we all agree that the system is a mess: Witness Congress’ 9% approval rating, a historic low, and 80% disapproval,” Lipscomb says. “The logjam in our political system makes us feel so disenfranchised in picking our political leaders. At the same time media and technology have advanced to a point where we can have a say.”
The show ends before the two candidates enter the New Hampshire primary, similar to the way Idol winners go off and record their records after viewers crown them. Since contestants will not have announced their candidacy officially until the show is over, campaign finance laws do not apply. (Lipscomb points to the fact that Hillary Clinton can make all the appearances she wants right now since she hasn’t declared her candidacy.)
If the concept still sounds a bit unruly, that’s fitting. “Can you really do that?” ideas are very much the bailiwick of Lipscomb, who created a poker tour, and with financier-partner Lyle Berman, began filming entire episodes before WPT had a deal with a network to air it. This, of course, was a dozen years ago, in a pre-iPhone era when few creators self-financed pilots, much less entire series. (WPT initially launched on The Travel Channel, then moved to GSN and currently airs on FS1.)
Lipscomb, now based in Santa Fe, took some time off in the years since selling WPT. He took the Tour public with Berman on the NASDAQ stock exchange in 2004 and remained CEO of WPT Enterprises until 2009, the year they sold the tour and its assets to online gaming interests. After the WPT sale, he remained CEO of the publicly traded shell company and merged it in 2010 to create Emerald Oil and Gas. He became CEO of spin off-company Ante5, Inc. to oversee left-over WPT assets.
“After selling the World Poker Tour and handing off management of the two spin-off public companies, I took some time to figure out what the next chapter of my life would be,” Lipscomb says, “and this was the answer.”
That’s when he called childhood friend Hickman—they have been pals since junior high in Knoxville, Tenn. This summer they met up in New York City. “I said we could do any shows but this is what we should do,” Lipscomb says. “We quickly put it into form.”
Lipscomb and Hickman are exec producing and CAA is packaging the show.
Prior to WPT, Lipscomb worked with Norman Lear, Al Burton and Alvin Toffler creating TV and film projects. Lear, who is touring for his memoir Even This I Get To Experience, continues to inspire Lipscomb: “I’ve already sent Norman an email saying, ‘I’m working on a project that reminds me of you.’ What he did was create entertaining television that changed the dialogue forever. This is truly following in his footsteps.”
“What we try to do in the media business is to find a ride on the zeitgeist train. We’re lucky if we have one,” Lipscomb adds. “This feels like none I’ve had, including the World Poker Tour.”