PARIS (REUTERS) - Eight French politicians will disguise themselves as citizens struggling with real-world problems in a TV show aimed at narrowing the gap between France's often remote political elite and the public they are elected to serve.
But "Mr and Mrs Everyone", due to premiere in a few weeks on the private D8 network, has provoked charges of being a gimmick debasing the decorum of public office at a time when a stagnant French economy and high unemployment has already led to public confidence in politicians hitting lows.
The eight politicians - now serving mandates ranging from parliamentarians and mayors to regional councillors - come from both the ruling Socialist Party and the rival conservative UMP. The group includes Thierry Mariani, a former junior minister under ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, former parliament speaker Bernard Accoyer and Samia Ghali, an outspoken Socialist senator in the tough port city of Marseille.
"We are taking real politicians who will be living real situations in real life and will draw lessons from them," the show's producer, Olivier Halle, told Le Parisien daily.
The politicians do not play themselves, but instead disguise themselves for one day as people from different walks of life. Mariani was put into a wheelchair for a day for the show, while Accoyer was immersed in a hospital emergency room. Ghali said she agreed to be put in the shoes of a poor woman looking for an apartment so that she could open viewers' eyes to problems in the system.
"I hope to be able to raise viewers' awareness about housing problems among the poorest," Ghali told the newspaper.
Some are not impressed. Conservative former prime minister Francois Fillon, currently mounting a bid to run as president in 2017, called the show a "perversion of political debate".
"If they need to disguise themselves to seek out real life, they have a real problem," he told Europe 1 radio.
An Oct. 4 BFM-TV poll found 74 per cent of voters pessimistic about France's future and a rising number frustrated by "the powerlessness of politicians in general".
Hollande's election promise to conduct himself as president in an exemplary manner has been tested by a series of embarrassments, notably over his affair with an actress that led to a split with his longtime partner Valerie Trierweiler.
"Unable to resolve the debt problem, Brussels, the environment, insecurity, deficits, public spending, they're going to the people like Marie-Antoinette to the shepherds,"political writer Andre Bercoff said of the show in right-leaning Le Figaro daily - a reference to France's 18th century queen who escaped the pressures of public office by cavorting in the countryside.
Communications consultant Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet said that given the current gloomy mood of the French public, such media antics by officials in office could backfire.