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Like it or not, reality rules televison

Sunday, June 15, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Last month, as they unveiled their new fall schedules, executives at every major broadcast network exhibited mild disgust and/or regret with the proliferation of "reality" shows in prime time this past winter.

TV Reviews

"The AMC Project: Reality People"
When: 10 p.m. tomorrow on AMC.

"Boarding House: North Shore"
When:8 p.m. Wednesday on The WB.

We're cutting back, they all said. But that reduction in reality shows won't actually come for another three months. This summer, it's full steam ahead.

Several new series have already premiered, including NBC's "For Love or Money." Wednesday, Fox debuts "Paradise Hotel" (9 p.m.) and The WB introduces "Boarding House: North Shore" (8 p.m.), a one-hour "Real World" meets extreme sports show.

During the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition in Hawaii late last year, The WB invited seven world-class surfers to live under the same roof for "Boarding House." Wednesday's premiere introduces these athletes. But even though they compete with one another on the water, there's little conflict amongst the group on land, which makes for dull TV.

The surfing scenes, however, are exciting, and learning about the competition and surfing terminology (don't ever "drop in" on a world-class surfer) makes "Boarding House" a little more intriguing than your run-of-the-mill reality series.

These shows may conform to various formats, but there's nothing ordinary about the varied experiences of their stars. "The AMC Project" looks at the post-TV show lives of three reality stars in the one-hour documentary "Reality People" (10 p.m. tomorrow).

Co-directed and co-produced by Squirrel Hill native Eddie Rosenstein, the documentary features Tonya Paoni ("Big Brother 3"), Chadwick Pelletier ("Road Rules Australia") and George Boswell ("Big Brother").

Paoni, a self-described "really sexy" 35-year-old mother of five, clamors desperately for the spotlight, not a rare quality among reality show participants. (Pelletier is an aspiring actor; Boswell, a former roofer, now wants to host his own TV show.) Paoni encourages her daughter to repeat what a schoolmate's father said about her ("He said you were hot!"), admits she didn't work hard to get where she is and lavishes praise on her "amazing" plastic surgeon. She aspires to appear in Playboy but by the end of "Reality People" is reduced to acting as a "celebrity greeter" at a car dealership.

Rosenstein compared the recovery of reality show stars to the rehabilitation of addicts.

"It's like detox or breaking an addiction," he said. Paoni has moved through the process faster than most, getting the lure of the spotlight out of her system after the documentary was filmed when she began a new relationship.

Pelletier carries a chip on his shoulder because, he says, MTV edited "Road Rules" to make a self-described, Bible-reading Christian athlete look like a jerk. "I'm ready to be looked at as Chadwick, an actor, not Chadwick, a reality-based star," he declares.

That might be difficult. Even the assistant to a casting director says, "He did the backflips and he was annoying everybody." A teen at a Christian camp calls Pelletier a "sell out" for sulking on TV.

"He is the most marketable," Rosenstein said of Pelletier, who has extensive training in martial arts. "He probably will and should get work as a Hollywood actor and probably would have been working as a Hollywood actor for years if he hadn't gone on reality television. It hamstrung him. It's a weird irony."

Boswell, a father and husband, may come across as the most pathetic of the bunch with a laugh that borders on maniacal and an earnestness fueled by delusions of grandeur. He's ditched his job and wants to sell "The Wild & Wacky Show," paying for production of the pilot himself. In it, he dresses as a pilgrim and visits the Byron, Ill., Turkey Testicle Festival.

"People react very strongly to [Boswell and Paoni] because as a culture, we do believe they should be thinking more practically, but life doesn't stop when you have kids. Everybody's Achilles heel is that they do need some validation. In most of my films I tend to get into peoples' lives in a pretty intense way, and almost every time they're still trying to please their mother or father."

Rosenstein, a 1981 graduate of Allderdice High School, said he and producing partner Rick Vellu decided to make "Reality People" because they were interested in the idea that the public treats reality show stars as characters, not human beings.

"And you're a has-been the minute you step off the show," Rosenstein said. "Dramatically, we thought that was really interesting. They get half of the American dream: They were getting fame, they weren't getting fortune."

Although the "Reality People" producers tried not to stereotype, Rosenstein admits their initial supposition was that their subjects were misguided buffoons. But, he said, he quickly became a George Boswell fan because he found Boswell charismatic.

"I just appreciate what he was willing to put on the line," Rosenstein said. "I went to film school and luckily found what I wanted to do at 19. George found what he wanted to do when he was 40 with three kids."

In the final analysis, Rosenstein said reality shows effect their stars in different ways, but they always have an impact.

"It leaves no one unchanged," he said. "For everybody, it's a major plot point in their lives."


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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