Boston bachelors singled out

Next `Average Joe' includes 8 from city

December 26, 2003|By Suzanne C. Ryan | Suzanne C. Ryan,BOSTON GLOBE

Boston is renowned nationally for its hospitals, its universities, its beloved Fenway Park. Now add mediocre-looking men to the list.

For Average Joe: Hawaii, the new season of the hit television reality series - in which 18 ordinary-looking bachelors will woo a former beauty queen - NBC deliberately targeted Boston and selected almost half of the show's contestants from the area.

The eight Boston Joes who'll vie for the top prize include an administrative assistant, a sewer contractor, an environmental scientist and two accountants. All of them are big in the personality department, but they'll probably never land on the cover of GQ.

As the series sets to debut Jan. 5, Boston residents are left to wonder: Is this the home of the homely?

Don't feel too bad, says Brandeis University film studies professor Thomas Doherty. He figures that NBC was probably drawn by Boston's "blue-collar mystique."

"Think of Cheers or Mystic River," suggests Doherty. "We're not `Below Average Joe.' Our men are the kind of guys who pull over if they see your car has broken down. Even if some of us don't have the money or the looks, we're still decent."

Joseph Boskin, a professor emeritus of American culture at Boston University, has a different explanation. He points his finger across the Charles River.

"This is MIT's fault," he says. "[The producers] are homing in on MIT's nerdiness. Boston is the hub of academia, and theoretically, academics are supposed to be the opposite of Tom Cruise. I have news for NBC. Underneath our glasses, we are all Cruises."

To be sure, the show's producers say, they never meant to offend anyone.

"We were looking for larger-than-life personalities, people who are memorable. Boston is one of those urban meccas which breeds people who say what's on their mind," says Stuart Krasnow, an executive producer.

In the last Average Joe, which concluded Dec. 8, there was just one contestant from the Boston area, accountant Dennis Luciani of Quincy, who was cut in the second round.

In this series, Larissa Meek, an artist and former Miss USA contestant, will spend several weeks getting to know the regular guys before eight hunks arrive to join the competition. Where did NBC recruit them?

Miami and Aspen, Colo., Krasnow says. "Those are cities where people who want to model end up."

Mary Lou Andre, an image and wardrobe consultant based in Needham, Mass., says she travels nationwide doing corporate seminars and finds that Boston's reputation universally is one of a "conservative, geeky, high-tech area."

"That's the image out there even though I think Boston has come a long way. With so many European students here, I think Boston is very hip. But people are intrigued with Harvard and MIT. They can't get past that."

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