'Homeless Real World' Seeks TV Pad
This is the true story of six homeless people picked to live on the streets, work together and have their lives taped. This is Homeless Real World.
In 2007, online-video network Mania TV began documenting the lives of six homeless people in Denver. But the idea of a reality show about life on the street was deemed too edgy — even for the Web home of shock comic Tom Green — and the series never ran.
So after Mania closed up shop in March, the four partners who produced Homeless Real World (working title) pooled cash to acquire the rights and have begun to rework the 160 hours of footage in hopes of finding it a home on TV.
It’s been a passion project from the start for Richard Ayoub, Del Bigtree, Darwyn Metzger and Randal Kirk, who own the project equally and serve as executive producers. The idea for the show grew out of an effort to capitalize on MTV’s decision to shoot the 18th season of The Real World in Denver, where Mania was then based. (Neither MTV nor Real World producer Bunim-Murray Prods. are involved in Homeless.)
Ayoub, now chief creative officer for the syndicated CyberGuy tech-news segments, says the show offers a “surprising look at homeless life.” Which, it turns out, is not all that different from life on a typical season of MTV’s Real World.
“You probably never think of homeless people kissing, making love, falling in love,” Ayoub says of the intimacy-and intrigue-captured on camera.
There are also a lot of laughs. “They will actually go on-camera and say, ‘We’re out here having fun,’” he adds.
That said, the defining-moments that led to the cast members’ circumstances are revealed during the course of the show. So too are the special skills needed to survive life on the street, which in Denver during winter sometimes means sleeping in three feet of snow. The footage depicts such rawness that Metzger calls it “actuality” TV.
The approach that the producers took to shooting the series is unlike anything on TV. The producers bonded closely with the subjects, at times breaking the fourth wall in the footage. Interviews are more conversation than Q&A and feature nothing like the typical “confessionals” adopted by so many reality shows.
“The cast and crew became so close that they’re still very much in touch with each other,” Ayoub says. “So we can tell you what everyone is doing today.”
Since filming wrapped, three cast members entered detox programs, one got off the streets entirely and one passed away, Ayoub says. One cast member told him that in sobriety, they tell you to look back on your last drunken stupor as a reminder of where you never want to be again. “My last drunken stupor is on video tape, and I will always be able to look at it,” the cast member said.
The producers acknowledge that the show will be sure to get a reaction. “You will have an opinion,” Kirk says.
“It has the potential to be one of the most outrageous reality shows ever,” says Bigtree, who previously spent a day pretending to be homeless in Las Vegas for an episode of Dr. Phil, where he’s currently on staff. The experience taught him the extent to which homeless people are invisible to the rest of the population. “It was like, ‘I’m not even alive in your world.’”
When he started working on Homeless Real World, Bigtree didn’t set out “to do a show that says ‘Save the homeless,’” he says. “But you realize that there is real humanity here. This is probably one of the most profound experiences of my life.”
Ultimately, the producers insist, it’s that experience and the humanity of the cast members that they sought to put front and center. And at a time when “homelessness and foreclosure aren’t as foreign an idea as they used to be,” Ayoub says, the show has particular relevance.
As for whether some may accuse the show of being exploitative, he says every reality show faces that charge: “The redeeming value of this show is these people are actually likable and in many cases lovable. They will make audiences look at homeless people differently.”
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO Watch the sizzle reel for Homeless Real World (working title). WARNING: This video contains profanity.