‘Reality Hell’: Punking Americas Top Model Wannabe’s

by | August 13, 2009 at 6:20 PM | Interviews

E!’s new ‘Reality Hell’ takes the public’s obsession with reality shows – and turns it on its head.

The series targets some of today’s most popular television series – ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ and ‘Wife Swap,’ for instance – and creates a world where one unsuspecting “real” person walks into a very scripted situation. In this world, everyone other than the participant – from the ‘Aging Model Judge’ to the ‘Crazy Perverted Hollywood Dad’ – is an actor, out to get the poor contestant.

In the hilarious first episode, airing this Sunday on E!, an unsuspecting model wannabe gets to experience the superficial modeling industry and take part in a Top Model-esque show – complete with crazy hosts, oversexed fellow contestants, and one particularly raunchy photo shoot. Will she remain throughout the entire episode, or will she run out screaming and clutching her Zed card?

We talked to the Executive Producer of the series, Peter M. Cohen, also behind the NBC fake-reality show ‘I Get That A Lot’ and BET’s ‘Hell Date.’ He talked to us about his own favorite reality series, and what exactly is up with the public’s obsession with the genre.

Watch full episodes of Cohen’s ‘Hell Date’ on Fancast

What is it about reality shows that people are drawn to?
For me it was all about the comedy. They were hell dates but what people were buying into was that they related to being on a bad date. Everyone likes to laugh. I was trying to make it funny. Just a really funny, light kind of experience. In reality everyone can relate to these shows because they’ve seen one. They relate to the types of characters. I think everyone in reality TV is kind of a parody at this point. So much craziness goes on so I just wanted to match the craziness.

Why do people love going on reality shows?
I think that the illusion is that everyone is gonna be a star. If you remember ten years ago when ‘The Bachelor’ started, every one of those people became larger than life. In many ways, bigger than most celebs. I think everyone assumes that they’re gonna be a star. We have people lined up the door to be on this new “dating” show or the new “modeling” show. They all want their 15 minutes.

What are your own favorite reality shows?
My favorites are Top Chef, I hate to admit it but I have probably seen every season of Top Model, I watched almost all reality. I like ‘The Hills’ I come from the scripted world. I’ve directed for feature films, sitcoms, and ‘Hell Date’ was my first entryway into reality TV. Since then I’ve been doing mostly reality. I also did ‘I Get That A Lot’.

What is it about fake reality shows that you like?
The reason why I tend to stray closer to the hoax realm is because it’s more of a hybrid show. It’s partially reality – the thing about our show is you can’t get more real than this real person. We don’t produce them – we don’t even try. We set up the world and add them. We are so afraid of giving away the hoax, so we produce the real person less than most reality shows produce their “real people.” I really like the hybrid world, because you can create actual characters and character arcs, but within the realm of a reality program.

Is it hard to keep the fake world going?
It’s a hard thing to keep it going. The joke goes from casting till we finish the production. Everyone’s in on the joke. Our PA’s, our camera operators, they all have to play a character. When something strange happens, they look around to all the crew and they say ‘why isn’t anybody stopping this?’ Those are the moments that we let play out but ultimately someone does come in and say ‘okay everyone calm down.’ I mean when a bottle gets slammed in someone’s head [watch the first episode!], typically someone calls the cops. But we have to play up to what’s going on, we just do it with a little bit of a reaction.

Did anyone come close to finding out the prank?
There was one woman on our cooking show who was starting to question a lot of things. It was one episode where she had to chase chickens around in this millionaire family’s home. And she was like ‘why does this Beverly Hills family have to chase chickens? why can’t they get them from the store?’ So while she’s in a room by herself she goes through the trash and she finds a tag ripped off a suitcase that had the different name of the same house where we were filming. And she was like ‘the tag didn’t say this, I think there’s something going on here.’ So we had to tell her that she was staying in the guest house. She was the one who legitimately searched.

This eight-episode series premieres at a special time Sunday, August 16, immediately following an extended episode of “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami” at 10pm ET/PT.  The series then moves to its regular slot Sundays at 10:30PM ET/PT only on E!