TV Preview: Real Life

Tv Preview: Real Life

A rare truce on the set of "Real Life"

Outside, it is a perfect sun-drenched Los Angeles day. But inside Studio 9, home of the new NBC sitcom "Real Life," all is not sunshine and rainbows. Were the sky visible above the walls of the set's trendy urbanesque apartment, it would in fact be decidedly cloudy. In only third week of rehearsal and filming, a clash of egos has begun that many fear will doom the fledgling "Real Life."

Producer Ann Garth isn't worried, though. She sits inconspicuously in a director's chair at the back of the studio, a cigarette in one hand and a rumpled script ringed with coffee stains in the other. "I'm not worried," she explains. "All this," she says, gesturing toward two actors in an argument so heated it looks like a fistfight might break out at any moment, "will only help the actors understand their characters. They can use this. Oh, fantastic, fantastic!" she yells at one actress who has just started to cry. "Real Life" is NBC's latest attempt to cash in on the reality TV fad. The twist is that "Real Life" is a fully scripted, professionally acted sitcom that just happens to be about 8 single twenty-somethings (dubbed "Lifers") picked to live together and have their lives filmed. "We looked at shows like 'The Real World' and thought, great idea, but what if a whole year goes by and nothing interesting happens? It can be hard to manufacture drama on a show like that. Things will never get dull on 'Real Life,' though. We've got a team of writers and producers that will make sure of that!"

"We're also planning to integrate some aspects of shows like 'Survivor' into 'Real Life.' Make the characters eat cockroaches, something in that vein. Obviously, the actors won't have the actually eat them. We imagine these episodes will coincide with the actors' contract renewal deadlines. It's much easier to write out a character because he failed the Cockroach Challenge than to send the character to Nebraska to tend to a sick aunt. It makes a lot more sense."

Indeed, the unstructured premise of the show and its quirky cast of characters give the writers almost limitless potential for storylines and character development. Writer Ben Kremer, putting his iMac into sleep mode, told me, "We've written 10 episodes so far. We're trying to deal with real issues facing today's youth--sex, drugs, money, relationships--but to keep it light. And with 8 characters and, not to give anything away, more than one sexual orientation, it could be years before we exhaust all the possible couplings!" What are some upcoming plot lines? "Well, Rob, the saving-it-for-marraige Republican played by James Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek), will question his principles after meeting Alex, the tattooed bi anarchist. And sexual tension will mount between Rain, the willowy songstress, and cameraman Steve (John Lovitz)." The cast is a combination of familiar veterans and freshfaced newcomers, and producers are working with big-name Hollywood stars to arrange camoes in future episodes. "I can't give everything away," Kremer said confidentially, "but in October, Bob Saget visits the Lifer house as a father in search of reconciliation and forgiveness from his son, rapper RJ. And when plumbing problems strike, expect the plumber to have a few Grammy's under his belt next to his pipe snake."

Actress Tori Nelson, however, expressed concerns: "I just don't feel like I belong here. I've never felt like I really belonged anywhere, though, you know? I just...I just...maybe I should go home. The people here don't really know me, they don't even try to know who I am deep inside." Actress Mandy Franklin had a different perspective, however. "That Tori is a BITCH with a capital B-I-T-C-H. She acts all high and mighty and then she expects all this pity when [make-up artist] Sandy has to reapply her mascara for the four thousandth time because she's cried it off AGAIN. Also, she's a slut and her butt is HUGE."

Bickering aside, "Real Life" promises to be one of the most watched shows of the fall season. It's life: unscripted, with a little help from that old TV standby, the script.

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