Reality television to fund college education

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The search is on for contestants for a new reality show, different from any other program of its kind. The prize: A fully paid-for college education at any school in the country.

A new unscripted reality show, tentatively called “The Scholar” will pit 15 qualified high school seniors against each other for the chance to win a free education at the college or university of their choice. The selected contestants will be students who want to further their educations but may not have the monetary means to do so.

Steve Martin’s production company, Martin/Stein is teaming with ABC, the reality veteran Bunim-Murray, producer of “The Real World” and “The Simple Life,” and Carsey-Warner, producer of shows like “The Cosby Show” and “That ’70’s Show,” for the show they hope to air in 2005.

“Every student in this country should be entitled to a college education,” said Steve Martin and Joan Stein, of Martin/Stein in a press release. “With this show, we intend to empower both students and parents with the knowledge that a higher education is realistic and attainable for everyone.”

Producers of the show say they hope the show will tell an inspiring story of people trying to win the “ultimate American prize,” a higher education, while also inspiring the audience to explore furthering their own education.

“For the ABC brand of reality series, we are looking for shows that are about life-altering wish fulfillment, and ‘The Scholar’ couldn’t be more perfect,” said Andrea Wong, executive vice president, Alternative Programming, Specials and Late-Night, in the press release. “And, in particular, we know this team of producers — who really feel the pulse of young people — are going to bring us a fantastic cast and tell an amazing story.”

The show does not however guarantee admission to any school in the country and the winner must apply to schools as a “normal” applicant. The ultimate victor will win a full scholarship to the school of his or her choice.

A press release for the “The Scholar” will be set at a major university, yet to be determined. While a spokeswoman for Bunim-Murray could not say specifically reveal what challenges contestants will endure, she did say that they will be tested in the areas of academics, leadership, school spirit, and community service.

Current college students say they believe “The Scholar” would be successful because of the lack of other similar shows on television.

“There are many versions of reality TV shows out there about wife swaps, makeovers, and shows like ‘Survivor’ and ‘Fear Factor’ that reward based on money challenges,” said Hillary Schecter, 21, of Needham, Mass.. “I like the idea of high school kids experiencing college life with things like pressure, potential peer pressure, potential relationship issues, sharing a house with roommates, etc.. That aspect will be more like the ‘Real World’ but you will also get to see how smart they are.”

Schecter added that she liked the idea of the dynamic of high school seniors interacting because “they are more sophisticated than high school underclassmen but not as much as college students.”

Other students said that “The Scholar” does not sound as “trashy” as some of the other reality shows about young people.

“Show like ‘Sorority Life’ always showed how immature people could be,” said Carrie Sampson, 19, of Armonk, NY. “This show sounds like it will be classier with people who will work hard and have real dreams instead just complaining about cosmetic issues.”

Some student said while the show is a good idea, it does not really interest them.

Sam Rosen, 20, of Chicago, said that he would not want to watch a show like “The Scholar” because he is already in college.

“It’s a good idea for a show but a lot of people who are in college make sacrifices to be here,” Rosen said. “I know a lot of people who are at school now who don’t have the money and will be paying off loans for the rest of their lives. It’s nice to give people a good story but not everyone is going to win.” People wishing to be cast in “The Scholar” must be high school seniors or graduate students who have never been enrolled in a degree granting program, according to ABC’s Web site. They must also have already taken the SAT subject tests or be scheduled to take them in November or December to be a finalist.

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