Rod Blagojevich wants to join NBC's 'I'm a Celebrity...'
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Just when you thought the saga of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich couldn't get any stranger, it has.
Blagojevich wants to star on the NBC reality show "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" - a program similar to "Survivor" in which contestants will be plopped down in the Costa Rican jungle to perform sweaty physical tasks, scheme to avoid elimination and throw tantrums for the camera.
If a federal judge gives permission, the man who faces years in prison on corruption charges could be following in the steps of Flava Flav and Kathy Griffin - D-list celebrities willing to play the clown on TV.
Perhaps he will have to retrieve items from a crocodile-infested swamp, like one participant on an earlier version of "I'm a Celebrity ..."
"I'm sure Illinois viewers would love to see Blagojevich have to do something like that - especially if the crocodiles win," said Jenn Brasler, associate editor of the Web site RealityNewsOnline.
First, Blagojevich needs to get Judge James B. Zagel to let him leave the country with a pending criminal case. He was ordered to surrender his passport after his December arrest on charges that included trying to sell off President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.
Northwestern University law professor Anthony D'Amato said the judge might be willing to approve the project because of Costa Rica's strong extradition agreement with the United States - meaning Blagojevich could not just hole up there forever. But the decision is far from certain, particularly with a judge known for being strict.
Costa Rican Interior Undersecretary Ana Duran said Blagojevich would be allowed to enter the Central American country because he has no legal charges against him there.
"If (the U.S.) lets him out, he wouldn't have any obstacles here because he doesn't have any convictions," Duran said.
Blagojevich, who pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, has plenty on his mind without adding a TV show to the mix. Illinois lawmakers impeached him and booted him from office in January.
Since his arrest, he has announced a deal to write a book, hosted a Chicago radio talk show and made the New York talk show circuit, chatting it up with everyone from David Letterman to the women of "The View."
But to people who know Blagojevich or know the business of reality TV, the idea of him appearing on "I'm a Celebrity ..." isn't terribly shocking.
Illinois Rep. Lou Lang, a fellow Democrat, said Blagojevich needs both money and attention, and television is a way to get them.
Appearing on the show will give the out-of-work former governor some much-needed cash for his legal defense, Lang said, and it will keep Blagojevich in the public spotlight, where he can repeat his claims of being an innocent man victimized by political enemies.
Blagojevich has had trouble assembling a defense team, which his attorney attributes to a lack of money.
"I can guarantee you I will not be watching. I think it's disgusting," added Lang, who was once a Blagojevich supporter.
Plenty of other people probably would watch the former governor, who once dreamed of being president and is now a national joke, the target of "Saturday Night Live" parodies and late-night monologues.
Andy Dehnart, editor of the Web site Reality Blurred, said Blagojevich may not be a star, but he's hotter right now than the typical contestant on a reality show. For instance, another participant on "I'm a Celebrity ..." is rumored to be Nancy Kerrigan, the skater who has largely been out of the spotlight for 15 years.
Blagojevich has become accustomed to television cameras. As his impeachment trial got under way in Springfield, he launched a media blitz, rushing from one TV studio to another in New York to proclaim his innocence. He likened himself to the hero of a Frank Capra movie and to a cowboy in the hands of a Wild West lynch mob.
Blagojevich seemed to bask in the adulation, signing autographs and posing with onlookers as he left TV studios.
If he's allowed to participate, Blagojevich is not likely to get rich from the show. Contestants are paid to appear, but the amounts are relatively small, especially on a lower-tier show.
The biggest benefit to Blagojevich would be the opportunity to portray himself as an easygoing regular guy to millions of people. Of course, appearing on a style of TV show that thrives on conflict and humiliation, he also risks coming across as a kook or a prima donna.
"At this point in 21st century America, it's clear that reality TV is the last refuge of a scoundrel," said Daniel Manu, director of the Web site Television Without Pity.
"I'm a Celebrity ..." started on British TV, where it's still a hit. ABC tried an American version in 2003, but it lasted only one season. The winner was Cris Judd. If the name doesn't ring a bell, he was once married to Jennifer Lopez.
Other "celebrities" on the show were TV host Robin Leach, model Tyson Beckford and Melissa Rivers, daughter of comedian Joan Rivers.
NBC will air a new version of the show this summer. "Rod Blagojevich will be a participant on the show pending the court's approval," the network said in a statement Tuesday.
An attorney close to Blagojevich's legal defense, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Blagojevich could tape the show in June if the judge approves the travel.
Associated Press Writer Mike Robinson contributed to this report from Chicago.
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