Reality TV: Sometimes simple, occasionally naked

There are some goofy things to fill our Thursdays now, from nakedness to Nicole Richie to LeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian. Here's the story I sent to papers:



LOS ANGELES -- For Nicole Richie, “The Simple Life” was
supposed to be a simple breeze.

She was 21 and a college drop-out, a rich kid (the adoptive
daughter of musician Lionel Richie) who grew up in Hollywood comfort. The idea
was to drop her and her then-friend Paris Hilton in a tiny town.

“TV was not my world,” Richie recalled. “And I had Fox
saying to me, ‘Do you want to take this adventure, and it will take up 30 days
of your life?’”

It took up much more. “The show really kind of took a life
of its on,” she said, “and I went along with the ride.” It lasted five years …
or much longer. For good or bad, it transformed Richie and TV.

Today, the genre abounds. “It’s everywhere,” Eddie Cibrian
said. “Everybody has unscripted television.”

That includes the new Thursday line-up on VH1. Debuting July
17 are:

9 p.m.: “Dating Naked,” which is just what the
title implies. “Once everyone has stripped away their clothes and preconceived
notions about each other, … there is nothing left but their ultimate, honest
selves,” insisted Susan Levinson, the VHI programming president.

10: “Candidly Nicole,” following Richie’s life.

10:30: “LeAnn & Eddie,” with Cibrian, an
actor, and his wife LeAnn Rimes, a country star.

Those last two follow the “Simple Life” mold. There had been
other reality shows (starting with “The Real World”), but mostly competitions. “The
Osbournes,” in 2002, and “The Simple Life,” in 2003, just amiably follow
unusual people in unusual situations.

“Candidly” follows Richie, 32, and her friends. Her husband
(musician Joel Madden) and two children aren’t shown. “My dad’s on the show
because he’s desperate and a celebrity and cannot stay away from the camera,”
she said. “My sister is on the show because she’s just 15 and cute.”

That’s the light approach that made Richie a Twitter and
blog star. Now she’s back in reality-TV.

Rimes is new to that world. “We are really kidding ourselves
with the illusion of a private life,” she said.

After all, Cibrian’s ex-wife Brandi Glanville has a reality
show (“The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”) and comments on him. Now he has
one, too. “They are very different shows,” he said.

The “LeAnn and Eddie: opener does spend a lot of time grumbling
about tabloid coverage of their marriage. Still, Cibrian says, “ultimately,
this is a comedy.”

He grew up in California, the son of a Cuban-American
banker; Rimes grew up in Mississippi and Texas. “Her dad is as Southern as
Southern gets,” he said. “You’ve never seen someone manhandle a horse or a
steer …. He’s so cool.”

And he takes his daughter’s life in stride, Rimes said. “My
dad always knew that I’d end up with a pretty boy from California.”

She did. And that sort of culture class has fueled reality
shows, ever since “The Simple Life.”

MTV discovers virginity. Really

Virgins on MTV? Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron. Still, the people featured on "Virgin Territory" (debuting Wednesday, July 16) are fairly interesting; here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES -- In an MTV universe filled with high-octane
youth, these people seem unique. They are – openly and candidly – virgins; that
seems to surprise the people who know them.

“My family … honestly didn’t believe that I was still a
virgin, based upon my personality,” said Dominique Sullivan, 22. “I like to go
out and I like to do regular things.”

Now she’s in the opener of MTV reality show “Virgin
Territory,” flirting and dancing and then talking about her virginity. A
subsequent episode has Alec Melger, 21, who also surprised his parents.

“They assumed that I wasn’t a virgin …. I love talking about
sex, (but) I’m not having it,” he said.

By comparison, Lisa Youngerman, 23, (featured in the opener)
says her parents knew she was a virgin. “What father doesn’t love the idea that
his daughter is not having sex?”

They might seem misplaced in a network whose shows imply
that everyone’s having young sex. Sullivan was a “Jersey Shore” fan; Melger
recalls seeing a three-way on “The Gauntlet” when he was 9.

Even Susanne Daniels, MTV’s programming president, recalls
having doubts about some of the shows. “When I first heard about ‘Teen Mom,’ my
initial reaction was that it sounded exploitive,” she said.

Still, there might be a cautionary effect. Sarah Brown, head
of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, points to a
Brookings Institution study: “MTV programs focusing on pregnant teens and teen
moms could account for up to one-third of the decline in teen birth rate.”

Other shows have a different effect. “In our media,” Melger
said, “sex is everywhere …. It does put a lot of pressure on young people to
have sex.”

The “Virgin Territory” people resisted, for varying reasons:

For Youngerman, it was religious; she decided to
wait until her marriage (which is shown in the opener). “I was with Nick for
almost four years (before marriage), and so it was very (difficult) to abstain
from sex when you care so much about a person.”

For Melger, who is gay, it’s been inadvertent.
Sex simply hasn’t happened, he said, a fact that he’s not happy about.
“Abstinence is not for me.”

For Sullivan, it’s learning from others. “People
in my family started having sex at a very young age …. I didn’t want to
continue that pattern. I didn’t want to get pregnant at a young age.”

Often, Sullivan said, she skips serious relationships of any
kind. “It is hard dating someone for a while when you are a virgin …. It begins
to be an issue.”

So she prefers to put on a tight dress, dance zestfully,
flirt with the guys – and then go home alone. “We can still be sexy and we can
still be vibrant,” Sullivan said. “We just don’t have to ‘do it’ to be that.”

“Virgin Territory,” 11 p.m. Wednesdays, MTV.

Opener, July 16, reruns at 3 p.m. Saturday; 11
a.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday; 6 p.m. Monday; and 8 p.m. July 23.

A strong series starts ... and a Goldwyn tradition returns

I'm out in Los Angeles now, interviewing people about the summer and fall TV shows. That involves some OK ones, a few awful ones ... and, occasionally, a great one. One of the best is "The Divide," which debuts Wednesday and reruns often. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES -- When it comes to law and order, Tony Goldwyn
figures his views were sort of standard. “I assumed that if you are put in
prison, you probably did something pretty wrong.”

Then he made the movie “Conviction” …. which led to a
remarkable new series called “The Divide” … which could lead to the reshaping
of the WE cable channel.

Yes, WE – formerly Women’s Entertainment, originally Romance
Classics, often home of “Bridezillas.” Now it has a richly layered drama series
about lawyers trying to free men on Death Row.

Neither of the show’s producers – Goldwyn and
Oscar-nominated writer Richard LaGravenese – recall having ever seen a WE show.
“But I’d never seen FX before ‘The Shield.’” La Gravenese said. “I’d never seen
AMC before ‘Mad Men.’” The AMC people (who own WE) want another transformation.

By family tradition, this should be natural for Goldwyn. One
grandfather (Samuel Goldwyn) ran MGM, the other (Sidney Howard) won a Pulitzer
Prize and wrote the “Gone With the Wind” screenplay. Goldwyn’s father (Samuel
Jr.) propelled art films with his theaters and movie company. Tony spent large
chunks of his boyhood watching movie classics with his older brother John, who
savored them

John would run Paramount and produce “Dexter”; Tony
resisted. He’s an actor (the “Scandal” president) and director. “The only
reason I wanted to be a producer of something was to protect it,” he said.

One of those was “Conviction,” a 2010 movie with the true
story of a young mother who put herself through law school, so she could help
get her brother a new murder trial. That led him to Barry Scheck and The
Innocence Project, which now lists 317 convicts it has helped exonerate.

There is strong drama here, Goldwyn decided, rippling through
the families of the victims and the convicted. LaGravenese – who has
nominations for an Oscar (“The Fisher King”) and Emmy (“Behind the Candelabra”)
– agreed: “The Innocence Project is really very fertile ground to do character

They created a story and Scheck suggested switching the
races: Members of a prosperous black family were killed and two white men were
arrested. Amid talk of unequal justice, there were fears of a riot; a young,
black prosecutor got convictions and the death sentence. Now – as he prepares
his race for governor -- an intense intern is convinced those are wrong.

This is a deeply layered character, a convict’s daughter who
is living with a tough (and sensitive) cop. “She’s studying to become a lawyer
and doesn’t like the law,” Goldwyn said.

That role went to actress Marin Ireland, who then spent a
month at the Innocence Project. “It looked and felt different than any other
legal atmosphere I’d ever seen on television or in a movie,” she said.

It’s a place of shared spaces and shared emotions, she said.
“A big cheer would go up across the room and then the whole room would kind of
cheer.” But there were also constant setbacks on life-and-death issues. “People
(said) you have to go outside … and walk it off.”

This became the backdrop for “The Divide,” which will spend
its first, eight-week season on this one case. Goldwyn directed and co-wrote
the opener; he isn’t acting in it, but he is re-joining the family tradition: “This
is the first time that I really loved producing.”

“The Divide,” 9 p.m. Wednesdays, WE, beginning
July 16.

Opener reruns at 10:50 p.m. and at 12:50 and
2:55 a.m. It’s then shown at 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. July 23,
leading into the second episode.

Soccer spy? A new cable network stays ambitious

OK, I know nothing about soccer and less (if possible) about drug-enforcement and international spies. What I do know is that it's always fun to watch the vibrancy and ambition of director-producer Robert Rodriguez. Now his El Rey cable network, only seven months old, is launching its second full-scale action-adventure series ... about (really) a spy working undercover as a soccer player. Here's the story I sent to papers:


LOS ANGELES -- When Robert Rodriguez launched his El Rey
network, it seemed wildly ambitious.

Sure, it has the same budget-friendly elements as other
cable networks. There are reality shows (a fresh take on Mexican-style
wrestling starts in October) and reruns (“Miami Vice” arrives in January).

And it has movies, especially the action ones Rodriguez (the
“Sin City” and “Spy Kids” director) savors. “El Rey had become a celebration of
the curated genre movies,” said Scott Sassa, El Rey’s vice-chair.

But beyond that is a big step: In its first year, El Rey –
an English-language, Latino-based network – has two action-adventure series.
The first was based on Rodriguez’s “Dusk to Dawn” movies; the second?

Roberto Orci – a big-time movie writer (“Star Trek 3”) -- says
he suggested something he’d been thinking about for years: “What about this
idea? Soccer player by day, spy by night.”

That clicked. “You look at everything I’d done, it’s all
James Bond,” Rodriguez said. “I mean, ‘Desperado’ with the guitar case that had
gadgets …. I love that genre.”

So “Matador” has the government probing Andres Galan, the
owner of a Los Angeles soccer team. It recruits Tony Bravo, a DEA agent who was
a small-time college soccer player; at a try-out, he has a fight that goes
viral. “Galan sees him as an asset from a commercial perspective,” said Dan
Dworkin, who created the series with Orci and Jay Beattie. “He sees this guy as
an enforcer that he can market.”

The actors have to seem like soccer players. They aren’t,
but they’re athletes.

“I’m from Texas, so I played American football primarily,
strong safety,” said Gabriel Luna, who plays Bravo. “Ran track. Played

Tanc Sade, who plays the team captain, is a former
spear-fisherman who set some records in “free-diving.” He says he can hold his
breath for seven minutes and can swim underwater for 240 meters … which would
be helpful if soccer games were underwater. To get this role, he says, he took
a standard Hollywood approach: “I lied,” he said.’

He claimed he’d played college soccer. During the show’s
boot camp, he learned well enough to score a goal with his head in an early
scene. “I was getting some decent headaches,” Sade said.

He’s in a cast that varies in roots. Sade is a blue-collar
Australian who convincingly plays an upper-crust Englishman. Nicky Whelan, who
plays Bravo’s handler, is also Australian. Alfred Molina – the three-time
Tony-nominee who plays Galan -- grew up in England, with an Italian mother and
a dad from Spain. An acting coach, he said, called him “ethnically ambiguous.”

That fits El Rey, which reflects a diverse world. Tony Bravo
doesn’t speak much Spanish, nor does the actor who plays him. “I’m fifth-generation
Texan; (I) was never really immersed,” Luna said.

Rodriguez, also a fifth-generation Texan, finds that logical.
El Rey was created, he said, “with an eye toward really being inclusive.” Then
again, it also aims “to create kick-(butt) entertainment.” For that part, “Matador”
offers chases, fights and a murder by meat-cleaver. It’s his kind of show.

“Matador,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, El Rey; debut (July
15) reruns at 10 p.m. and midnight.

El Rey launched Dec. 15. It’s on DirecTV and is being
gradually added to Comcast and Time Warner cable systems; see  


At last: In depth coverage of shoelaces

Let me digress for a moment: For Jewel, there were some culture shocks when she went from being a hard-working Alaskan to being an art-school student. In one class project, she found that she was the only person who knew how to shovel.

Fortunately, such knowledge gaps will now by filled by cable TV. On July 21, we'll learn how to dig a hole and how to flip a coin. Before that, on July 14, we'll learn how to make ice cubes and tie our shoes. That's in a quirky show called "Going Deep"; here's the story I sent to papers:


In its highest moments, television has been where people
learn things.

It’s where they learned about civil rights, Vietnam, the
Cuban missile crises. And now it’s where they’ll learn … well, how to shake
hands. Or swat flies. Or open a door. Or much more.

“You’ll never think about tying your shoes the say way
again,” promised Heather Moran, the programming chief of the National
Geographic Channel.

Really. In “Going Deep with David Rees,” each gets its own
half-hour. “If somebody sees (an) episode summary,” Rees said, “they have to
think ... like, ‘This must be a joke.’ Or ‘I know how to tie my shoes. How are
(they) going to do 30 minutes on this?’”

They did. “Fact of the matter is, we shot like nine hours of
footage” on shoe-tying, Rees said. He talked to mariners about knots and
parachute people about strings. And he talked to a personal hero.

“We flew him over from Australia,” Rees said.  “I have been obsessed with him for years. As
soon as we got the deal to make the TV show, it was like, ‘Well, we’re going to
talk to Professor Shoelace.’”

Think of it as like the fictional moment on “The Big Bang
Theory” when Sheldon met Professor Proton. “Going Deep” lets Rees to satisfy
many long-time goals.

“When I was growing up, my mommy and daddy did not allow me
to climb trees, which was a huge injustice,” he said. “So at the end of (an)
episode, I go home and climb the childhood tree that my mom and dad didn’t let
me climb. I make them sit there and watch me. It was profoundly satisfying.”

He did it safely and successfully … after conferring with the
top tree-climbing minds. “One of the real pleasures of the show is going around
and meeting with experts,” Rees said.

To learn about shaking hands, he studied a cadaver arm. To
learn about paper airplanes, he talked to a top NASA scientist and to a world
record-holder who took this seriously: “(He) spent two years designing the
plane and then he literally hired a football quarterback to throw it.”

Rees’ top thrill came while learning how to make ice cubes: “My
favorite thing was going to the National Ice Core Lab and being able to hold
this ice that was almost a half-million years old.”

Still, plenty of other things came close: “I did learn some
pretty cool ways to tie your shoes.”

“Going Deep with David Rees,” 10 and 10:30 p.m.
Mondays, National Geographic Channel. Debuts July 14 with how to make ice cubes
and then how to tie your shoes.

Those rerun at midnight and 12:30 a.m.; then
Wednesday (11 and 11:30 p.m.), Friday, July 18 (10 and 10:30 p.m., midnight and
12:30 a.m.), July 19 (11 and 11:30 p.m., midnight, 12:30 a.m.).

They also rerun twice from 6-8 p.m. July 21, the
night of the next two – how to dig a hole and how to flip a coin.