A Show is Born
Let’s create a TV show. Here’s the pitch. We take 10 families who are going through financial hardship—they’re about to declare bankruptcy, are in severe credit debt, etc.—and we put them all under the same roof. We call the show, “The Poor House.” They live in this house for 2 months. We have them simplify their lives, cut down on spending, and learn how to manage their finances better. All of the challenges are designed to promote not only teamwork but sound financial decisions.
Challenge option (1): Leave a $100 bill in the empty kitchen. Have the contestants go to the grocery store, stock the fridge and pantry with what they can, and feed the whole house for a week. Challenge option (2): Each team has a thoroughly screwed up checkbook to balance: the first team to zero-out wins a prize they can use, like $1,000 knocked off of one of their high interest credit cards.
No one will get voted off. There’s no way it will work with the TV audience calling in to vote against destitute families. Nor can we have the contestants scheming and plotting to send one another home. Our aim is to create one big alliance, not a horde of backstabbing scene-stealers. So “The Poor House” will emulate shows like “The Real World,” where all the participants are in it for the long haul and feel more like characters than contestants.
OK, let’s work through some early problems. Of course there is a negative connotation to the word “poor.” Won’t that offend and call attention to their need? Well yes, in a way, but “The Biggest Loser” has been doing it for 8 seasons. And while there’s a double meaning on “loser” (i.e., the biggest loser of pounds), the obvious first impulse is to picture a loser with a capital L, as in the big L across the forehead. Loser as in dork, nobody, nonachiever.
Will the show feature families with children living there? No, that would be a bad idea. Put a bunch of snot-nosed toddlers on a reality show called “The Poor House” and child psychologists will shut us down before we ever tape the pilot. We can’t have them living with the group but it will add a sympathetic element for those couples who have kids back home. So are the kids in their empty houses Macaulay Culkining while their parents are spending 2 months filming a TV show? No, the families will be carefully screened so any families that need to leave kids behind while taping will leave them in the care of grandparents, relatives, and friends, and will rejoin them on the weekends during the weekly 2-day production break.
To keep costs down and to facilitate the logistics of sending people home on the weekends, each season will have contestants selected from the same city. Season 1: “The Poor House: Houston,” with 10 families from the Houston area. Season 2: “The Poor House: Chicago,” and so on. Casting will not be an issue. We don’t want an “American Idol”-type tryout where mobs descend on arenas and attempt to be more pitiful than their neighbors. That would really be depressing. So the contestants will be suggested by concerned loved ones who want to see their friends and family members improve their lives and dig out of debt.
Who will pay the bills while these people are sitting in “The Poor House?” Surely, all of the contestants have real, honest-to-God mortgages and bills mounting up while they are balancing pretend checkbooks and stocking prop pantries. Our lifeblood, our Twin Wonders, will be Philanthropy and Advertising. Financial services, insurers, and local businesses will love to be associated through ads and product placement. Even though Danny Deadbroke won’t make it onto the show as a contestant, he will still watch and learn and see that Tri-Country Mortgage Solutions works for the people and has incentives and strategies to get people out of debt. Not to mention all of the giving types who will donate large sums of money in exchange for a little screen time as they deliver oversized checks to families in need.
You think Move that Bus! is inspirational television? Wait until you see the season finale of “The Poor House.” All the families that have been busting their humps to learn fiscal responsibility and restraint will get their debts erased. All of them. Every family, every penny. It will only be 10 families a season, but generosity like that will get paid forward and legions of misty-eyed viewers will learn how to avoid their own financial pitfalls.
Somebody call Oprah.