Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

I'm in Real World Paris ... Get Me out of Here! Advocate Columnist and Intrepid Foreign Correspondent Charles Kaiser Finds That Being Embedded in the MTV Digs Is No Slumber Party. (Television)

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

I'm in Real World Paris ... Get Me out of Here! Advocate Columnist and Intrepid Foreign Correspondent Charles Kaiser Finds That Being Embedded in the MTV Digs Is No Slumber Party. (Television)

Article excerpt

I was a virtual Real World cast member for a day. I wore a body mike, lived in a house where only the bathrooms offered momentary respite from peering cameras, and never went outside without an entourage--a three-person camera crew plus assorted producers, assistant directors, and baffled onlookers.

Maybe, just maybe, it's possible for real Real World cast members to forget after the fifth week that every smile, grimace, and grunt is being preserved for legions of MTV viewers, but we virtual types had the experience for only 18 hours. So we never forgot.

The venerable staple of cable television, an addiction for teenagers and 20-somethings and a guilty pleasure for everyone else who enjoys the sight of young, seminude bodies in a hot tub, has just finished filming its 13th season, with the premiere set for June 3. This year it takes place in France. (Who knew it would be the year of the freedom fry?) The show was shot in Le Vesinet, an upscale Paris suburb that looks like a 19th-century version of Stamford, Conn., with big bourgeois houses set on ample green lawns. And yes, there is a gay character: an 18-year-old Irishman named Simon.

Desperate to generate ink for a middle-aged show, the publicity mavens at MTV hit on a PR epiphany: Why not invite seven reporters to share the Real World experience?

Proving once again that most humans will do anything to be in front of a TV camera--even when their frolics will never be broadcast to the larger world--the glossy mags responded en masse. GQ, TV Guide, YM, and Blender all splurged for transatlantic plane tickets for their intrepid reporters. Company, a British women's monthly for the young and restless (typical headline: "Help! I'm Pregnant"), had to pay only for a round trip on the Eurostar train under the English Channel. For The Advocate, coverage was available for the price of a taxi ride, so its Paris-based Last Word columnist volunteered to fill the gay slot in the virtual cast.

We arrived a couple of days before the real cast members moved in. The Jacuzzi sat forlornly in a packing crate on the front lawn as dozens of workers scrambled to finish the house in time. Producer Tracy Chaplin said he "appreciated" the fact that French workers "stop for lunch for two hours and everything is closed on Sunday" but added "for production it's hell," an observation that infuriated Anne Deguy, a French reporter from Paris Match.

The warnings we had received in advance by E-mail were detailed enough to fill four pages. "The crew will not be speaking to you. Any time anyone leaves the house, you will need to alert the production crew by calling the 'bat phone.' Cell phones and headphones are not permitted."

Most of the rules quickly went out the window. Nobody seized our cell phones. The crew spoke to us regularly, especially after Rob Tannenbaum, the reporter from Blender, speculated (on mike) about the endowment of the cameraman. "There's no talking about the crew!" rasped one of the assistant directors.

We all enjoyed being followed into town by the cameras, at least until the novelty wore off. Some of us enjoyed it less when we learned we couldn't go into a store to buy a bottle of water because it hadn't been "cleared" for filming by the MTV crew.

Everyone tried to be "on" for the camera. Tannenbaum was suffering from food poisoning, but he still managed to rise to the occasion more often than the rest of us. …

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