MTV takes young folks to the '70s

TV Preview

July 05, 2005|By Kevin McDonough | Kevin McDonough,NEWSDAY

We've all seen this "reality" before. Or have we? Twelve photogenic young people arrive at a designated location ready to outwit and outlast. But this time, their "real" world consists of a humble split-level ranch with a shagadelic interior decor.

Bert (Bil Dwyer), dressed for an ancient episode of Let's Make a Deal, greets them at the door, brandishing a clunky microphone and shouting each guest's name and astrological birth sign. Jaws drop and eyes bulge as the unsuspecting players make their way into the sunken living room. Welcome to The '70s House (debuting tonight at 10:30), MTV's new experiment in mind games and competitive cohabitation.

Expecting to appear on The Real World, or Road Rules, the kids are shocked to discover that they must immerse themselves in the music, food and fads of 30 years ago. They must study '70s history and lore, and, worse, they must get up and dance the Hustle every time the song blares from speakers placed throughout the house.

But before they do, their host, Dawn (Natasha Leggero), demands that they divest themselves of their cell phones, PDAs, iPods and other devices from a time now referred to as "the 2000s."

While one contestant, Andrew, 19, contends that he had "a blast" in the house, he was challenged by his parents' technology. He'd seen a rotary phone only once, "as a prop in a play I was in." And to make matters worse, "the girls seemed to figure [the phone] out right away, and they were always on it."

According to MTV senior vice president Jessica Samet, the contestants had phone problems beyond the slowness of the rotary dial. They had a hard time calling their friends because "all of their numbers are stored in their cell phones."

Andrew found phonographs equally mysterious. "I had no idea what I was doing. Every time I would turn a little knob ... [the needle] would go up and go back down."

While he'll never become a vinyl fan, Andrew left The '70s House with an appreciation for what he now considers "the great music of the 1970s." He said the first thing he bought after returning to 2005 was a Simon and Garfunkel CD.

But the show is not only about "Feelin' Groovy." Tension arrives in the form of competitions and weekly eliminations. The voice of a man named Oscar announces each new challenge via a vintage speakerphone.

In Episode 1, the housemates are required to compete in a basketball game, dressed in short shorts, clunky sneakers, headbands and other regalia out of the old American Basketball Association, even using its tricolor ball. At the last minute, they discover they'll be playing in front of a contemporary high school crowd that jeers at the outlandish outfits.

In a future episode, the housemates take disco dancing lessons from Deney Terrio, choreographer for Saturday Night Fever, only to find that their dance competition takes place at a hip-hop club, where their prairie dresses and one-piece jumpsuits raise eyebrows, to say the least.

Samet says she was bummed out by the players' scant knowledge of '70s history. "They are totally clueless, she says. "They thought the hostage crisis took place in Canada. They think America's bicentennial was in 1972 and that Eisenhower was president during the '70s."

Their lack of knowledge even extended to one of the most popular tunes of the classic-rock era. In a fill-in-the blank test, they were asked to complete the song title, "Stairway to ------."

"Oddly enough, one of them thought the answer was `Miami,'" Samet observes ruefully.

Heavens!

"We had a lot of moments."

Despite such "setbacks," Leggero found the atmosphere upbeat. "I was prepared for them to think the '70s were gross. But every time we threw something at them, they all got excited."

Just don't ask about the food. One female housemate complained that she gained 10 pounds from the steady diet of Swanson's frozen dinners. And "they complained that it took 25 minutes to cook the dinners because there were no microwaves," Samet says.

But there were some upsides to the technological downgrade. According to Samet, the lack of gadgetry forced house members to "sit around and talk and read magazines and books, and do things that they were not used to doing."

The MTV executive seemed surprised by how much the contestants liked wearing polyester outfits from the Ford and Carter years. "We looked for the worst clothes of the '70s ... the worst," Samet says.

But don't tell that to Andrew. Now that he's back in the present, his future might entail a wilder wardrobe and wider collars.

"I would love to wear leisure suits around all of the time," says Andrew, birth sign Cancer. "I think they look pimp."

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