Who needs Nike? Michael Vick to star in his own reality show

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Michael Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback convicted of killing dogs for sport and profit, may not have gotten his old Nike contract back, but he is following the well-worn path of former child stars, celebrity heiresses and Z-list actors.

Yes, Michael Vick has gotten his own reality TV show, which he describes as "a story of hope" for kids who may be "dealing with adversity," the LA Timesreported Tuesday. Vick, who served 18 months in prison for running the notorious dog-fighting ring Bad Newz Kennels, is teaming up with BET for the new eight-part "docu-series," tentatively titled "The Michael Vick Project."
"This show can be a blueprint for so many kids," Vick told the paper, "I want to show them that things are going to happen, that they're not going to get through life without dealing with some kind of adversity. I want to show that if they have a fall from grace, this is how they can turn it around. We want this to be a story of hope."

News of Vick's reality program comes on the heels of a bizarre episode last week in which his agent said the former star had been re-signed by Nike, only to have the shoe giant smack down that claim the following day. Vick is keeping mum about the Nike fiasco.

Nike is apparently wary of incurring the wrath of dog-lovers across America who were appalled by Vick's role as ringleader of an illegal dog-fighting ring which featured gambling, drug abuse, and dogs mauling each other to death. Animals that lost or underperformed were often killed by members of Bad Newz Kennels.

Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said while Vick's crimes were "breathtakingly disturbing," he should have the opportunity to make a living using his talent.

"Do I think what he did was appalling? Yes. Should he not be allowed to do what he is good at and live some kind of life? No." Thompson said.

As for the reality show, Thompson said Vick and BET really have the opportunity to do something positive for animal rights and cruelty prevention.

"It comes down to how he repackages his life, and I think a show about his troubles -- if done well, which I have no confidence about -- could be useful for the culture," Thompson said. "But approaching this cynically is probably the most rational way to approach it. I don't expect this show to win a Peabody, but I have been surprised in the past."

It's unclear how much Vick will be paid for the series -- which will focus on Vick's attempted image rehabilitation as well as his troubled childhood -- or how much of the proceeds he will donate to animal cruelty prevention programs. Reality TV stars have come under scrutiny recently for the amount of money they receive for filming their shows

But Thompson said it would be difficult to envision any marketer or advertising executive wanting to associate their product with Vick.

"Once you've been convicted of doing what Michael Vick has done, I would not have him advertise for me if I were an ad executive," Thompson said. "I would find killing puppy dogs probably something I would not want associated with my product, just like I would not want Michael Vick to dog-sit for me."

Despite Vick's attempts to burnish his image -- and let's face it, he can only go up from here -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wasn't buying it. "People who abuse animals don't deserve to be rewarded," PETA spokesman Dan Shannon told the Times. "They shouldn't be given multimillion-dollar contracts."

PETA has broken with the Humane Society, which has adopted Vick in its battle to fight dog-fighting, a pastime that has gained popularity at an alarming rate in pockets of the country. Both the Eagles and the NFL support the project, according to the paper.

Producers of the Vick series told the paper that it should be considered a "docu-series" as opposed to your standard reality TV fare because the show's tone will be "somber" and "serious." James DuBose, executive producer for the project and a reality show veteran, said the series would reveal "the raw storytelling of what happened, why and how."

Vick's own production company, MV7 Productions, is among the show's producers. While serving his prison sentence, Vick lost an estimated $100 million in salary and endorsement deals, and in August a federal judge approved the bankrupt Vick's plan to pay back creditors an estimated $20 million.

BET's new entertainment boss, Loretha Jones, said the Vick project was consistent with the network's new strategy of emphasizing "family values, cultural uplift and community pride."

"No way are we excusing or minimizing the atrocity that Michael was involved in," Jones said. "Michael makes no attempt to do that. It is inexcusable. However, there are numerous public figures who have engaged in egregious behavior and have been given a second chance."

For his part, Vick comes across in his interview with the LA Times as somewhat resigned to being known forever as a brutal dog-killer. "All I can ask is that people are receptive and come to this with an open mind," he said. "I can't change the past, I can only change the present. I know there are people who can't forget what I did, but I hope they can someday forgive me."

Follow Sam Gustin, a reporter for DailyFinance, on Twitter here.
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