The Next Big Thing in TV: Fixing America’s Broken Political Discourse System

Image courtesy WIRED magazine

By Steve — 9/25/18

Dear Reader,

I’ve decided to public. I seek a visionary TV executive or producer with whom to explore the next big thing in television: a new (and civic) use of reality TV.

This new use would tap the very large market of Americans who have lost faith in the nation’s candidate/election-centered political media, which is presently money-driven and polarized at all levels of government. Americans yearn for issue-centered, citizen-participatory political discourse that gives them what they now lack: an informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives. They will flock to it when they see it and can participate in it.

The origins of this idea go back to the late 1980’s when, as a Chicago educator, I devised exciting new ways for parents, students, teachers and taxpayers to strengthen Chicago’s beleaguered public and non-public schools in Chicago’s media. Here’s one. And another. And another. And another.

Then I began to wonder. Chicago is a media-driven city. How can Chicagoans use the miracle of modern communications technologies to solve virtually any problem in ongoing, issue-centered, citizen-participatory, electronic public forums?

Furthermore, how can these forums be scalable to solve problems in all three communities — local, state and national — of which every American is a member?

My answer was, first, I devised new uses of these technologies at national and state levels. Then I returned, locally, to Chicago and its most challenging problem: its seemingly unsolvable violence epidemic. Despite decades of wartime losses of life and treasure, and billions spent trying to reduce it, Chicago’s violence has resisted all attempts at reduction, let alone solution, for the past 50 years.

Why? If you’re from Chicago, you know that Chicagoans, including their mayors and police chiefs, have never considered violence to be solvable. (Actually, some Chicagoans used to tell me, “They could solve it if they wanted to.” But people don’t say that today.)

Yet violence is solvable. Chicagoans will make their city as safe as New York when they put their heads together.

So how can they put their heads together?

In Chicago, as elsewhere, television (not the Internet) continues to be “the best, most efficient way to communicate with the largest possible audience” (Shelly Palmer, Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network TV to Networked TV).

This makes TV — networked TV, as Palmer argues — the media hub of choice for community-based solutions to “unsolvable” problems, including Chicago’s violence.

Before long it hit me that a single compelling weekly prime-time TV program would overnight trigger a citywide search for violence solutions, one that would instantly spread to other Chicago media and soon to all Chicago media.

To succeed, however, this TV show would have to

To meet these demanding criteria, I developed Chicago FIXIT: an ongoing search for solutions, aired in eight-month seasons, with winning and losing teams and solutions decided by weekly viewer votes.

The FIXIT concept optimizes for civic purposes TV’s two most dynamic formats. First is the extraordinary power of voter-driven reality TV (over 750 million votes were cast in season 10 of American Idol). Tuning into FIXIT, you see eight small teams competing and cooperating in an extended contest to find best solutions and to be the best team. Shark Tank-like panels of citizens, experts and city officials vet team solutions.

FIXIT proceedings are regulated, second, along the lines of the respected three-level rule structure of pro sports telecasts consisting of on-field referees, video-umpired instant replay and the rule-clarifying commentary of play-by-play announcers.

FIXIT is scalable to work at local, state and national levels. Learn more at

If FIXIT strikes you as a long shot, bear in mind that

Now you know why I’m looking for someone with vision. Anyone come to mind? I’m at



— — — — — — — — —

Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator, media entrepreneur and Director of Chicago Civic Media.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Chicago Civic Media

Making citizens and governments responsive and accountable to each other at all levels of government with impartial, problem-solving political discourse.