Now this is a recipe for ratings:
Take one Wallenda seasoned in seven generations of daredevil feats and family promotion.
Cross Niagara Falls for the first time in 116 years.
Stir with a high wire and a heavy pole in a three-hour televised spectacle broadcast by ABC.
Add a dash of nostalgic tourist marketing highlighting Niagara Falls' world-famous history of daredevil stunts.
Hit with a thrilling portion of prime-time promotion.
Wrap it all in a boyhood dream to emulate a French daredevil who first rope-walked the Niagara gorge in 1859.
Serve to millions of viewers after their favorite shows go into re-runs or hiatus.
Voila -- Nik Wallenda's Attempt to Walk on a High Wire Across Niagara Falls a la ABC on June 15.
(Note: Any concerns over staging and broadcasting a potentially gruesome and deadly stunt are optional.)
At age 33, Nik Wallenda is a seventh-generation daredevil who first set foot on a practice wire at age 2. He comes from a family whose name is synonymous with performing and promoting dangerous feats on the public stage -- the Great Wallendas, also known as the Flying Wallendas, whose history as a traveling circus troupe dates to 18th-century Germany and reached its pinnacle of fame in the 20th century with jaw-dropping high-wire routines and deadly falls, including one that killed Nik Wallenda's great-grandfather, Karl, in 1978.
Billing himself as King of the High Wire, Nik Wallenda has bicycled across cables strung between building towers, run atop a "wheel of death" attached to a 23-storey hotel and even climbed inside a box and blew up two sticks of dynamite; he lived to describe that sensation "like getting kicked in the chest by a horse." All of this has been captured for "Life on a Wire," a Discovery Channel reality series. Meanwhile, he has successfully re-staged performances that killed other Wallendas.
Wallenda's attempt to walk across the Niagara River -- on a cable 2 inches wide and stretching the length of 18 football fields about 200 feet above the gorge -- culminates two years of intense lobbying by Wallenda and his managers in the United States and Canada.
It is literally a once-in-a-generation event. A tenet of its approval limited professional stunting at Niagara Falls to no more than once every 20 years.
Prior to the concession for Wallenda's prime-time television stunt, stunting at Niagara Falls has long been banned. The last rope-walk across the gorge was in 1896, and the last ride over the falls, in 1951, resulted in death. Unapproved stunting at Niagara Falls currently carries a maximum fine of $10,000.
Wallenda, whose wire-walk is being sponsored by Red Bull and the Discovery Channel, says he was inspired to attempt his crossing when he visited Niagara Falls when he was 6 years old and saw a vintage photograph of the French daredevil Jean Francois Gravelet, aka The Great Blondin, making his famous 19th-century crossing.
Since The Great Blondin, 15 rope-walkers have tried crossing the Niagara gorge. Only one rope-walker died: In 1887, Stephen Peer, an American, fell while trying to cross at night in his street shoes.
Nik Wallenda will be wearing leather-soled slippers and will have a rescue helicopter hovering nearby when he attemps his wire-walk on June 15, but modern footwear and modern technology do not make his stunt -- or, as Wallenda prefers, his artistic performance -- necessarily safe.
Despite a $20-million insurance policy that Wallenda carries, safety concerns linger over a made-for-reality TV event that could end in tragedy -- but which also could boost a moribund economy with an influx of tourism and a renewed awareness in Niagara Falls, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border in western New York state.
"Are we that desperate?" local historian Paul Gromosiak asked the Niagara Falls City Council when it was weighing Wallenda's request last summer.
Pretty much everyone from the Niagara Parks Commission to the the New York State Legislature to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a 12-person board of government appointees in Ontario, Canada, with the noble-sounding mission of "protecting the natural and cultural heritage along the Niagara River" OK'd the deal.
One Canadian tourism commissioner said: "Our primary focus is on recognizing that daredevil acts and stunting, tightrope walking, that they form part of the rich history of Niagara Falls... What we're attempting to do here is control it and treat it as a tribute."
For its part, ABC will have a five- to 10-second delay in the live feed to give producers time to react if something goes wrong.
“Worst-case scenario, I sit down on the wire, the helicopter swoops in, I hook on and they get me out of there," Wallenda told the Canadian magazine McCleans. "I look goofy, but nobody gets hurt.”
Just this week, as he trains in Baltimore, Wallenda faces the possibility of having to wear a safety harness.
Wallenda hurting himself is one thing. Harming Niagara Falls itself is another thing.
“We take great pride in being a zero-impact operation" Wallenda said. "We don’t drill into any rock or pull up any grass. We’ll use cranes, and we’re trying to arrange the rigging so no cable will even touch the water when we set up."
No matter if Wallenda pulls it off, and perhaps more so if he doesn't, this may be television's most thrilling feat since Fonzie jumped the shark.