Unscripted This Time
Fame is a bitch. And they all want her back.
As the host of VH1’s Confessions of a Teen Idol, Scott Baio serves up a “septet of ‘80s and ‘90s heartthrobs” now mostly forgotten. Both Baio and co-creator Jason Hervey (“You know,” says Baio, “Wayne from The Wonder Years”) have “been there,” and now offer the others a “golden opportunity” to restart their careers.
Baio claims he’s already restarted his, with Scott Baio is 46 and Single and again with Scott Baio is 47 and Pregnant. Dubious as that assertion may be, the new show adheres to an established reality TV formula, exploiting people’s desires for stardom while laughing at them for being train wrecks. On the Confessions 4 January premiere, Baio said the show would “examine the addiction that we all have… to fame, and to see what it takes to get it back.” Like a pint-sized drill sergeant, Hervey noted that this would not be an easy process, bro. “I hope you guys all make it,” he said. “These stakes are real… It’s unscripted this time.”
But these stakes are also banal, and the show’s formula ordinary. Most of these poor souls are either unrecognizable now or were never really “idols” to begin with. Apparently unaware of this, the cast members insisted on their specialness. David Chokachi spun an unconvincing tragic tale of being typecast as beefcake after Baywatch, and contended that his part in a major hit makes him “a part of history.” On meeting “fame therapist” Cooper Lawrence, Adrian Zmed (TJ Hooker, Grease 2) underscored their difference from her: “We all have a common thing, and that is that we achieved something at a certain point… How can you possibly relate to that if you haven’t been famous?” Lawrence tried to refocus the conversation on the effects of fame—on the famous and on “a whole crop of kids who think what you do is so easy.”
Lawrence, also a producer on the show, is in place primarily to promote her vapid books about celebrity. She gained her own infamy last year when she appeared on Fox News to bash the video game Mass Effect for excessive sex and profanity when she had never seen it. The game’s fans flooded her Amazon.com book ads with bad reviews until Amazon pulled down some of the pages, and Lawrence offered a half-hearted apology. Here, she proffered empty platitudes and bad gender politics. She advised, “It’s about finding your power, guys, it’s not about giving your power to some bitchy casting director who has her period.” Cooper promised to get the guys “to the next level” (cue shots of wolfish smiles all around). The only thing holding them back is themselves. Let’s not mention lack of talent. Buy her new book.
One of Cooper’s new charges is Eric Nies, who claimed to be a “teen idol” based on his participation in “the first, the number one reality show,” Real World (he was in the first installment, in New York; incidentally, Teen Idolis taped on the real World: Hollywood set). Shaggy now, Nies touted yoga and balancing your charkas, blaming his problems on a bad manager. He confessed to the group that he had been suicidal until he found his “truth” in Eastern rituals. Now he means to “get out this message.” When he offered his “band of brothers” energy drinks, VH1 flashed a disclaimer concerning the health benefits he claimed.
Nothing Nies offered was as disturbing as the show’s engineered humiliations, which hardly seem therapeutic. Escorted to a club for a red-carpet event featuring photographers and a rope line, the cast members heard the cheers of adoring fans. but when they walked out from behind a curtain they saw only Baio and Hervey clapping in an empty room. Furious that they were “suckered” and “clowned” and will look like fools on national television, Chokachi stormed out and threatened to leave the show.
Dispatched to talk him down, Hervey used a combination of tough love and “let’s be real here” platitudes. “We did that so you guys would feel exactly what it was like to have that fame back and then we took it away, so you guys could want it again,” he explained. “Sometimes, looking at yourself, looking at myself, sometimes that’s hard to do guys, it is hard to do. However, it ain’t gonna get f-ing easier, bro. This is about having thick skin, this is about being open to a process, and this is about taking a look at yourself and saying, ‘How bad do you really want this?’”
How bad? Previews of upcoming Teen Idol episodes have the men looking embarrassed by focus groups who slam them, then talking out their innermost insecurities, or hearing complaints from family members who were negatively affected by their fame, then talking about their innermost insecurities. You get the idea. The group therapy circle looks like an acting exercises circle.
Each participant went off track for a different reason, but all their stories are reduced here to that adage that fame is fickle. Pool builder Christopher Atkins sweetly noted the irony of being the “lagoon guy” who now “builds lagoons,” while Zmed said he was content with his current gig, a one-man show on cruise ships. Jeremy Jackson (Baywatch), once busted for manufacturing meth, guessed that staying in the group house with strangers will be easy for him after having been in jail. Jamie Walters (Beverly Hills 90210) explained that his fame took a hit when audiences got mad at him for “[throwing] Donna down the stairs.” Given that Teen Idol is more deliberately blurring the line between fiction and reality, he might be in for more such trouble.
After the empty club prank, Nies told his fellows that, as a reality vet, he’d never seen a stunt that bad, then added, “Welcome to my world.” The first episode suggested this world is but a short step away from the circus of Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab and Sober House (indeed, these shows could be the next stop for some of these guys). Warned that they’re in for a nasty ride, these men signed up anyway. If reality TV fame isn’t as a good as real fame, it might still give them the fix they need.