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‘Real World’ Backlot Talk

Dec 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Hi. I’m Melissa Grego, managing editor of TelevisionWeek. I’d like to welcome Jon Murray, creator-executive producer of “The Real World” to TVWeek.com’s Producer Shoptalk.
Ms Grego: “The Real World” is in its 18th season now, and I have to congratulate you because not many shows keep on kicking that long. When you created the show, how many years or seasons did you figure it had in it?
Mr. Murray: You know, we were just trying to get through that first season, so we didn’t know how many we had in it but, it was interesting. “Real World” sort of broke conventional rules: We were planning to change our cast every year, change our location every year, and I actually think those things, that at that time seemed so unconventional, are actually the reason why the show has lasted so long; because every year we have a chance to reinvent it to make it fresh.
Ms Grego: I noticed that you have a plethora of what I would describe as extras for this addition of the show: after-video specials online, message boards, supplementary video available online, and it’s funny to me because while it’s an 18-season-old show, it seems like a show made for today’s TV consumer. How long have you been doing the interactive thing for this show and how far do you think you can take it?
Mr. Murray: Going way back into the very beginning for the first couple seasons, as soon as MTV Online was developed, we started featuring message boards and as much interactivity at that time as we could. Remember that was the early years, back in the early and mid-’90s, but in the last year or two, the opportunities to just interact with our audience have developed and this year we’re doing this live after show where literally viewers can watch the show and then pick up their phone and talk to one of the cast members and ask questions and text questions. …
“The Real World” has always been a show that has generated questions. Real people watch it and these are real people they’re watching and they want to know why they did something, what motivated them, and we just keep trying to build that bridge with our audience as the technology lets us do it.
Ms Grego: Ratings for the first episode were down a little bit compared to the previous edition, but like you said, there’s so much activity on MTV.com that it’s arguable that the actual audience hasn’t deteriorated at all– it’s just a little bit different.
Mr. Murray: MTV tried something different this year. They decided to air the first episode, the hour premiere, three different times. They aired it at 8, they aired it at 9 and they aired it at 10. Therefore, some people watched it at 8, some people watched it at 9 and some people watched it at 10.
Ms Grego: Or on TiVo…
Mr. Murray: Or on TiVo. Or they down-streamed it as soon as the show was over. You could go to MTV Online and watch it. But the point is that more people watched that premiere, that premiere night, than the fifth-highest in terms of all of our premieres, and certainly more people watched it than the Key West premiere.It was just they watched it over three different broadcasts or cablecasts as opposed to only being able to watch it in one.
So it’s frustrating to see people say, “Oh, you’re ratings are down.” Well of course they’re down because they’re down for the 10 o’clock hour, but when you look at the strategy they took, we think it was a really smart strategy and resulted in more people seeing that first show than normally would, especially on a Thanksgiving Eve night.
Ms Grego: So is your way of determining success really focused on how many people are watching or paying attention to engaging in your show. It’s not about one particular premiere hour time slot, right?
Mr. Murray: No, from an ego standpoint it’s nice to get that big number in one place but I understood the strategy and we’ll see really how well that strategy worked when the numbers come out for last night because last night you only had one opportunity to watch it at 10 o’clock. They do always have repeat broadcasts or repeat cablecasts throughout the week before the next episode airs and they usually repeat the previous episode right before the premiere of the next episode, and again you are able to go to MTV Overdrive and watch the episode any time during the week.
Ms Grego: In the first couple episodes, I noticed something. I watched the first years and thought, “Wow, the first priority when these housemates get into the house is, ‘Which bedroom am I going to get?'” And now, there are roommates hooking up romantically the first day they get there and scoping out romantic interests. And I’m wondering how you see that evolution and if you see any problem with that or how you take criticism when people say they’re just drinking and partying and having sex and that’s the whole storyline.
Mr. Murray: I don’t know, because we don’t tell them what to do, you know? We try to pick seven diverse individuals and people with very distinct backgrounds. This year we have two very different black men on the show, we have a gay guy on the show, we have three very different women, and we’re never quite sure what’s going to happen when they come together. We have some situations like last year in Key West. I don’t think we had any intercast romance. Nothing happened with that kind of storyline. This year, for some reason, they walked in the house and immediately Colie was very interested in Alex. He seemed to reciprocate, but it also seemed that Jenn had interest in Alex and he seemed to reciprocate there too.
Ms Grego: This year they’re going to work with Outward Bound. Why did you decide to add work to the show and do you foresee another evolution along those lines?
Mr. Murray: We had just come off of London, where our cast went to London and they sort of became paralyzed by the culture clash. Even though English people speak English, it still was very foreign to some of our younger American cast members. We realized that if we would’ve given them a job or hooked them up with a job, that would’ve gotten them out into the community and they would’ve met more people.
So starting in Miami, we gave them access to 100 grand and they had to come up with some kind of a business plan. And then after that we started doing various jobs, where we would set them up with a job with a boss and it gets them out into the community, it keeps them from just sitting around the house and it allows them to get to know the community quicker.
Because also back in the Miami season, we realized we didn’t want to cast people from the local town that we were shooting in because if things go tough-going in the house, they would run to mom or dad or run to their friends and they could escape it, whereas if you cast all people from outside that town there was no place for them to run to.
Ms Grego: What would you consider a highlight of next week’s episode that maybe we should look out for?
Mr. Murray: Next week’s episode is a really big one, and I’m afraid alcohol is part of the problem. At least it starts with alcohol. There is a huge misunderstanding When Stephen is at a bar and someone uses the “N” word to him and he feels that Davis wasn’t there to support him. Unbeknownst to him, Davis had left earlier because he wanted to go back to the house and call his boyfriend. So when they all get back to the house, Tyrie sort of confronts Davis over not being there for his roommate.
And it starts as a big misunderstanding but it gets into some of the natural distrust we have between races. And they hadn’t been in the house that long, they didn’t really know each other, this happened and when you look at it you go, “Oh, clearly alcohol was part of the problem” because they really weren’t listening to each other … and it sort of blew up. It’s fascinating how it works itself out. No one ends up leaving the house as a result of it and ultimately Tyrie and Davis actually become pretty good friends.
But it’s a big moment and it’s the kind of things that happen to college kids when they go off to college and I think that’s part of the appeal of this show. This show very much mirrors some of the kinds of stuff that happens to people this age. And I hear from a lot of young people that when they watch these shows, they actually learn from them and they see how other people do things and they learn from how they handled them, whether they handled them well or badly.

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