Do we really need another reality competition show? Yes, if the subject happens to stir emotions. And "Motor City Masters" involves something (car design) that people view passionately. Here's the story I sent to paper:
By MIKE HUGHES
In its reality rush, TV keeps trying competitions. It’s had
shows for singers and dancers and models, for designers and stylists and
artists, for make-up people and monster-makers. Even dogs had their day.
But now comes something many people are more passionate
about – car design. “It is a work of art that takes you places,” said Harald
Belker, the German giant who is a “Motor City Masters” judge.
And it’s part of coming-of-age. “I used to date guys
according to if they would let me drive,” said Jean Jennings, the writer who is
a judge. Now she has a Web site (jeanknowscars.com) and a belief that designers
are the most interesting people in the car business. “They are interested in art
and architecture and cooking; they know fabrics and sculpture. They’re very
The show’s judges and host are also interesting sorts who
came to the car culture in opposite ways:
For Brooke Burns, the host, it was gradual. “I
grew up with two sisters,” she said. “We were all dancing ballet,” not worrying
about horsepower. Only later, scooting around Hawaii in a black BMW convertible
during her “Baywatch” years, did she discover open-road joy.
For Jennings, it was instant. Her dad edited
Automotive News in Ann Arbor, Mich. Growing up on a mini-farm, she “played on
dirt roads, fished” and drove things. She
became a cab-owner and a test-track driver, before writing for Car and Driver
and helping start Automobile Magazine.
And for Belker, it was long-distance. He grew up
as a towering tennis star, in a Germany that lacked muscle-cars. “I was very
passionate about my first car, a Volkswagen Rabbit,” he said. It only had 60 horsepower, “but I drove the heck
out of it.” Later, he studied auto design.
Belker even has an odd distinction: “I was the dummy for the
Smart Car.” To make sure anyone could drive it, the micro-car was patterned
around him and another designer, each 6-foot-7.
He’s been working for movies lately, ranging from the
Batmobile to Inspector Gadget’s car. (“My job isn’t always about good
taste.”) It’s fast work, but Belker
marvels at the challenges the show’s contestants faced. “Sometimes, I thought,
‘Thank goodness I don’t have to do something that fast.”
Clever designers are crucial to companies, Jennings said.
Most cars are so well-made that people could keep them for 10 years; the design
nudges them into changing.
And they’re important to the buyer, she said. “To choose a
car is a very emotional decision …. Just because you have a family car doesn’t
mean it has to be a box.” And on the show, 10 would-be masters keep trying to
think outside that mobile box.
“Motor City Masters,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, TruTV
(formerly Court TV); opener (June 24) reruns at 11 p.m. and 2 and 3 a.m.
Opener also reruns at 11 p.m. Wednesday, 4 p.m.
Saturday, 11 p.m. Monday (June 30); also, at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on TNT.