Over the past few years, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online subsidiary has been run like some of Mark Burnett's most popular reality shows. Subscribers have been whittled away like torch-bearing contestants on Survivor, and a string of layoffs bears a passing resemblance to Donald Trump's signature "You're fired!" zinger on Burnett's The Apprentice. So I guess it's only natural for Burnett to take his proven production pedigree and hook up with AOL.com to produce an interactive reality series.

AOL has tried in the past to create an online equivalent of prime-time reality shows and duplicate their rubbernecking appeal. But the attempts so far -- whether they've involved tracking entrepreneurs through their startup phases or weeding out music fans to reward one with his or her own record label -- just haven't been much of a draw for those outside AOL's walled subscriber community.

Bringing in Burnett and staging the show on the unit's more accessible AOL.com domain may do the trick. A plan to give away prizes won't hurt, either. In fact, Gold Rush will feature hidden treasures planted all around the country, with clues provided through AOL's network of sites, including Moviefone, MapQuest, AIM, and, of course, AOL.com.

No, it doesn't sound entirely original. Geocaching has been around for nearly six years. Then again, these hunts will be more detailed and prolific, given the entertaining aspects of the Burnett series and the decision to market it across a wide variety of online and offline mediums. That's where having Time Warner comes in handy.

Competing online for prizes has been a decent traffic draw in the past. IAC/InterActive (NASDAQ:IACI) runs iWon.com, a site where folks who use the search engine are eligible for prizes, and Electronic Arts (NYSE:ERTS) has Pogo.com, where gamers pick up points that they can use for regularly scheduled prize drawings.

Burnett's name and the Time Warner media conglomerate's breadth give Gold Rush a decent shot, though it will still be a challenge to build an audience. A year ago, Burnett was seen as a savior to Martha Stewart Living (NYSE:MSO) investors after he contracted with Martha for a TV show and a primetime stint on her own version of The Apprentice on General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC. Poor ratings, however, killed the Trump spin-off.

So the gold rush is on. For the sake of AOL's waning popularity, let's hope that it does -- pun alert -- pan out.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been an AOL subscriber since 1992, but he doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.