Most DC reality TV shows are too busy trying to keep audiences tuned in to accurately capture the city, and they end up missing the mark. We look into why it’s time for DC reality to stop being polite and start getting real!
Last summer kicked off a wave of excitement across Washington when news broke that a house on the corner of 20th and S streets NW would soon be housing “eight strangers.” It was our area’s first big-named reality show, but would not be the last. Just as the “The Real World: D.C.” crew packed up at summer’s end, some Washingtonians found themselves signing waivers before attending parties thanks to the filming of “The Real Housewives of D.C.” but as quickly as crews set up – four in one year – America’s interest in the capital seemed to dissipate. What is it about Washington – home to a president with a rolodex of celebrity names, a fashionable wife and two cute kids – that does not make for good reality television? We speculate, therefore, on why the rest of America seems to think real Washington means really boring TV.
THE REAL WORLD DC
LOGLINE: America’s “first reality show” finally picked the District for its 23rd season.An old office building in Dupont Circle was transformed into all things political, with an interior festooned with 30 pieces of political pop art from Plan b gallery and a hip Oval Office complete with a mock Resolute desk (that was auctioned off at October’s Human Rights Campaign dinner).
WL TAKE: With few of its desired locations approved for filming, the cast was repeatedly sent to the same few places, most of which could have passed for anywhere in the country. But MTV wasn’t going to let viewers forget where they were and force-fed us with activism. One cast member interned for the Human Rights Campaign while another wore a “Taxation Without Representation” T-shirt. But overall, the show had none of the glam that surrounded Obama’s Washington arrival, which MTV clearly hoped to capture.
REAL-LY?: Buca di Beppo was a favorite spot of the cast? Please, who actually eats there except people who don’t live here. On second thought, when you look at it that way, it makes sense.
LOGLINE: This six-part series follows sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinisas as they create cupcake chaos at Georgetown Cupcake. Will it go up in smoke or be a sweet success? Their high ratings and renewal from TLC for a second season is icing on the cake.
WL TAKE: Judging from the lines snaking up to the door, the sisters’ success factor is obvious. (Now they need “cupcake bouncers” to man the door.) The show’s success may be due to the absence of political undertones, appearances from politicians or stock video of Washington monuments. Do we need any more evidence that the capital seems to be a reality show curse?
REAL-LY?: Like so many reality shows, Cupcake is filled with manufactured drama that frequently shows the sisters never having enough time.
THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF WASHINGTON D.C.
LOGLINE: Five Washington women, ostensibly with their fingers on the pulse of political power, navigate Washington’s unwritten social rules while exploring “the nexus of politics, society and even race.” But watching the women plan various fashion shows and attend parties in hair salons, it was hard to imagine one would see real power players such as Hillary Clinton gracing their events.
WL TAKE: First, let’s address the obvious. After Michaele Salahi’s alleged White House crashing, the show became a completely new thing. Every episode was clearly edited to lead up to the crashing finale. All that aside, the long casting process for this show should have clued in the producers that it wasn’t going to be representative of Washington. In the end, each woman’s ties to the center of power is about the same six degrees of separation from politicians as everyone is from Kevin Bacon. Ironically, the woman with the most ties was British transplant Cat Ommanney, whose soon to be ex-husband was a White House photographer. Umm, season 2?
REAL-LY?: The rest of America might not have noticed, but we did – the “start of the fall gala season” is definitely not the America’s Cup of Polo. We read Post column The Reliable Source for weekly fact checks. We’re pretty sure Marlyland-based production company, HalfYard did too.
BLONDE CHARITY MAFIA
LOGLINE: In the summer of 2008, this show was being pitched as MTV’s “The Hills” on the Hill: three Washington socialites work, love and play in the nation’s capital. Problem was, after being dropped from both Lifetime and the CW in the U.S., it only aired in foreign countries, such as New Zealand and the U.K., a year and a half after production started.
WL TAKE: It was more fun for its stars and young Georgetown scenesters to gossip about the production than film it. Ultimately the show performed way below expectations, something that may have been due to bad timing. President Obama’s historic election, which transformed Washington, was missing from the series. And amid one of America’s most devastating economic collapses, watching the expensive shopping habits of twentysomething consumers may have been a real turn-off. Perhaps that’s why it was popular outside of this country.
REAL-LY? In the first episode, cast member Katherine Kennedy gets ready for her “Welcome to Washington” party, an event calculated to “reach out to all the new lobbyists on K Street and all the new congressmen and senators.” The February 2009 party looked more like the crowd at the Georgetown bar, George, and there were definitely no members of Congress in attendance.
TOP CHEF DC
LOGLINE: Tom, Padma and their crew headed to Washington in the spring and the cast quietly took up residence in a Kalorama house. The cooking show featured competitions at the CIA, Newseum, Mount Vernon and Nationals Park. But not even appearances from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Aaron Schock and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough could save the show: it’s the lowest-rated “Top Chef ” ever.
WL TAKE: Although Washington has seen plenty of celebrity chefs open or run restaurants and can even boast of being the home of last season’s “Top Chef ” winner, the public may still see the District as the home to lobbyists making deals over the predictably smoke-filled-room menu of classic cocktails, steak, and red wine.
REAL-LY?: During one cooking competition the chefs prepared a dish from their region for 300 young guests attending the kickoff of the Cherry Blossom Festival. Unfortunately, the opening ceremonies for the festival occurred two weeks earlier.
IN PRODUCTION: THE POTOMAC FEVER
LOGLINE: Now in production, E! network’s show is said to follow young, ambitious Washingtonians. Executive producer Rob Lowe told Variety that he’s “always had an affinity for the adventures of young Washingtonians …” They live and love at the center of world power. I can’t wait to tell their stories.”
WL TAKE: E! Network recently acquired the rights, proving they aren’t afraid of Washington’s curse on reality shows (Note: we have a contestant on The Apprentice currently, and it’s having one of its worst seasons ever). But it’s been more than a year since the Los Angeles production company, Blue 44, began casting here, proving that finding the right people in Washington is a challenge. Yet, since Lowe signed on to produce, interest has spiked and sources are saying that has helped attract some pretty impressive cast members, er, Washingtonians. Time will tell: it’s difficult to imagine a Congressional office agreeing to allow a staffer to appear on a reality show.
REAL-LY?: We won’t name names, but some people attending a preliminary casting event in September 2009 would not be considered among young Washington’s most powerful. But as we said, Lowe may have helped change that. After all, he and other stars like Demi Moore made it big due in part to another hit about Georgetown, St. Elmo’s Fire.
WASHINGTON REALITY SHOWS YOU’LL NEVER SEE? The Real Interns of Capitol Hill, Keeping Up with Senator Kardashian, The Apprentice with Rahm Emanuel, Blonde Charity Mafia 2.
DC REALITY WE WOULD WATCH: Survivor: Capitol Hill, The Amazing Race: Midterm Elections, The Interns of WL, The Real Househusbands of P Street, My Super GW Graduation, Bobama Animal Rescue, Big Brother: Camp David, Extreme Home Makeover: Capitol Rotunda Edition, MTV Cribs: Embassy Row, Pimp My Metro Bus.