In the pilot, contestants are asked to memorize and recite a soliloquy from Hamlet, to write a bad sonnet on a quotation to be disclosed from Susan Sontag's literary essays, and to take part in the "Instant Haiku" round. Veteran impresario Bob Holman and singer Stacey Kent join Franco and Lehman as hosts and judges.
Forthcoming episodes will focus on competitors representing elite colleges, corporations, and television networks. The celebrity competitors in the pilot are Kate Mara, Josh Charles, and Elisabeth Moss, pictured at left, a Los Angeles native, who will turn thirty-two on July 24.
Lehman explained that the thematic unity of the pilot derives from T. S. Eliot's characterization of April as "the cruelest month."
"That's as much as I can say right now," said Lehman.
Subsequent episodes will follow the format similar to other "America's Top" reality programs: a large pool of aspiring poets will be winnowed down over the course of a season to one standout winning bard. Participants will be matched with poetry mentors who will advise them on developing a "voice," adhering to poetic forms while inventing new ones, writing a convincing bio note, and applying makeup for an author's photo. The winning prizes will include publication in The New Yorker "Page Turner" blog, an off-site reading at an upcoming AWP conference, and lunch with an esteemed poet of the winner's choice.
Judges will come from the ranks of former guest editors of The Best American Poetry. Rumors have circulated that Bill and Hillary Clinton will be reunited with former White House guests Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, and Robert Hass to judge the crucial fifth elimination episode. Matthew Weiner, creater of the popular Mad Men series, who recently disclosed in a Paris Review interview that from ninth grade on he "wrote poetry compulsively," is likely to anchor at least one episode as a judge.
Watch this space for more details as they come!