From reality TV to reality on TV

Life imitates art in new shows such as 'Single in the City'

Television

July 07, 2002|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,Sun Staff

It's a sunny day in New York's Central Park and four attractive, stylish women have spread out a blanket for an afternoon of catching up on one another's love lives over glasses of wine.

They're talking about kissing, when Donna, an actress / model with the effervescence of a sorority girl, leaps in to share a tale of wetness and woe.

"Ohmigod! The grossest thing!" she says. "This guy that I was kissing once was actually spitting in my mouth! Honest to God, he was on top of me and he'd, like, well it [the saliva] up and push it in my mouth. ... I said to him, 'Don't do that. Don't spit in my mouth!' "

A brief respite occurs for the women to squeal, shriek and groan before the foursome carry on swapping stories on the horrors of dating in New York.

If you think this scene sounds straight out of Sex and the City, well, it's supposed to.

Donna and her friends make their national debut tonight on Single in the City, a series that tracks the dating exploits of 11 women in New York that its creators are pushing as the real-life version of the hit HBO comedy.

Single in the City, which airs at 10 on WE: Women's Entertainment, is only the latest in the new breed of reality television series -- shows designed to piggyback the success of popular dramas or comedies by offering viewers the real deal on their must-see TV.

Last month, Dick Wolf unveiled his new series Crime & Punishment, a real-life version of his critically acclaimed Law & Order. And the premises of reality shows like ABC's Houston Medical and Boston 24 / 7 bear striking similarities to ER and government-based series like The West Wing. "If art has been imitating life," said Chris Conti, NBC's senior vice president for drama development, "maybe it's time for life to imitate art."

The biggest advantage to producing a reality series based on a hit show is obvious: an existing fan base. Since its June 16 debut, about 9.2 million have been tuning into Crime & Punishment on Sunday nights. Given that viewership generally dips in the summer, the figure represents a solid start for Wolf's latest series.

"The Law & Order name certainly has cachet," Conti said of the decision to run with Crime & Punishment, which follows cases of the San Diego District Attorney's office. "If you added that Law & Order cachet to it, you knew that at the very least, they'd show up for the first one.

And then there's the viewers' curiosity about how real life measures up to fiction, which may be especially true with a show like Sex and the City.

"A lot of people have been thinking, 'Do women in New York really date 24 / 7 or was it kind of made up for this fictional show?'" said David Green, CEO of September Films, which produced Single in the City. "There are people who are going to be fascinated with whether the real-life versions of the fictional situations they like really exist."

Intensity of lives

As with most reality series so far, there is the question of the show's authenticity. In both Crime & Punishment and Single in the City, almost all characters register somewhere between cute and Heather Locklear gorgeous. And in Single in the City, four of the 11 women introduce themselves as model / (fill in the blank). The others include a handful of actresses, an aspiring singer and an impish British banker who has so many men on her plate that three show up at a club one night wanting to bed her.

"TV tends to focus on the extraordinary, rather than the ordinary," said Green, who noted that producers screened more than 200 women before picking the final 11. "But it was very raw and very funny and very, very real. We were really astonished by the intensity of their dating and working lives."

And the women in the show said the series did represent their realities.

"People who know me have always said to me, 'You ARE Sex and the City. This is your life,'" said Lauren Lake, 32, a singer / lawyer.

"The camera sometimes was a little bit weird because you want to be mean or say something to somebody but then you have the camera there," said Lake, who had cameras follow her for two or three days a week for three months. "But you couldn't really censor yourself, because even if you said, 'I'm going to watch what I'm going to say,' you're sitting around with your girlfriends, you're having martinis and, next thing you know, you're talking like normal."

Allison Arredondo, a 27-year-old model / teacher, said viewers should remember that the show only offers snippets of their lives.

"They took the juiciest things I did," Arredondo said. "They certainly didn't catch me sitting on my couch being depressed or eating cookies when I was feeling down about my life. I had about seven minutes in each episode, and those seven minutes were accurate but it wasn't an accurate representation of my entire life. I think that smart people will know that."

Stranger than fiction

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