Reality show looks for 'stars' locally
Jamie Harris is a weightlifing Elvis impersonator. He's one of the first people to submit a video in hopes of getting on a proposed reality show.
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There are reality shows about pawnshop owners, handfishin' hillbillies, gold miners, toddling beauty queens, toddling drunken Jersey Shore natives, hoarders, house flippers, singers, dancers, fashion designers, tattoo designers, drag queens, rich housewives of all stripes and, of course, a clan called Kardashian.
Anyone else out there want to be a reality star? Pittsburgh, Bob Kusbit and Ellen Berkman Davis want you.
"In any large group of people there is one person who can't wait to jump in your face and tell stories. But there's always someone at the other end of the table who doesn't say much, but when they do, they're dead-on and funny and that's the person we're looking for," said Mr. Kusbit, former head of development for Country Music Television (CMT).
The two are working with Steeltown Entertainment co-founder Carl Kurlander and the Steeltown/WQED Pittsburgh Innovative Media Incubator to discover that unusual, entertaining, quintessentially Pittsburgh personality. The late Myron Cope comes to mind. Yoi.
An open audition will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 17 in the WQED studios along Fifth Avenue. Contestants -- at least 18 years old and U.S. citizens -- are urged to submit their own short video applications ahead of time; more information available at www.thenextrealitystar.com.
But candidates don't have to be famous, in fact, the more "realness," the better.
"We would love to have any kind of a story; everyone should apply," said Ms. Davis, who has been a casting department manager on two of the genre's biggest shows: CBS's "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race."
"We would love to have a feel-good story, a positive, upbeat story, someone whose goal in life is to change the world in a little way or a big way.
"What we're looking for is the real, true 'Modern Family,' or the real, true "Office.' "
Of course, it doesn't hurt if your everyday life has an unusual or exciting component.
"It's a 'slice-of-life' of somebody," Ms. Davis said.
For example, an early submission came from Jamie Harris who grew up in Charleroi. Not only is he is serious weightlifter, he's also an Elvis impersonator. You cannot make this stuff up.
"I used to run CMT and I know if someone came to me and said 'How about a show with the world's strongest Elvis?' I'd be interested," Mr. Kusbit said.
Mr. Kusbit, who will serve as producer, has had success in selling concepts to networks. The former senior vice president of production for MTV and creator of shows such as "Total Request Live" and "Made" said the point of the auditions here would be to create a "sizzle reel" of highlights he would use to pitch a reality show starring the winner.
His current projects include MTV's "Totally Clueless," a new reality game show in which actors present unsuspecting subjects with increasingly ridiculous scenarios.
The quicker the contestants figure out they are on TV, the more money they win.
Even so-called "everyday life" reality shows often lean suspiciously toward scripted drama; some of what transpires on the Penn Hills-based hit Lifetime's "Dance Moms" boggles the mind.
There won't be fakery in "The Next Reality Star," Ms. Davis said. Pretending to be a world class swimsuit model/cupcake baker who pans for gold in the Ohio River isn't going to cut it in the audition process.
"We can spot them in a minute," she said. "My best advice is 'Be who you really are, because that's what is coming through in the end.' "
Ms. Davis -- who said she cannot go to a mall or Giant Eagle without scanning the crowd for talent -- and Mr. Kusbit speak from experience when they discuss capturing that essential Pittsburgh spirit. A single parent living in Squirrel Hill with her parents and whose significant other also has children -- "If anyone else has this setup, please apply [for the show]" -- she moved back to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles when she realized she wanted to raise her child here.
Latrobe native Mr. Kusbit interned on KDKA's "Evening Magazine," before joining the world of broadcast news and, ultimately, entertainment, in New York City. He returned in 2002 and now creates shows through his One Louder Productions.
According to Mr. Kurlander, Mr. Kusbit and Ms. Davis hatched the idea of the reality show when they were here to judge Steeltown's Film Factory contest.
"My hope is that are 10 really decent ideas and one winner," he said, adding that in the same way "American Idol" alums who don't win often make albums and tour, perhaps some "Next Reality Star" participants might make interesting subjects for one of Mr. Kusbit's future shows.
Winning the contest means possibly attending a pitch meeting in New York or Los Angeles. Should a show get picked up, it could be a life-changing experience.
"You have to know what you're getting into, and you have to be happy and comfortable with it. It's important for these people to be who they are in their own lives," Mr. Kusbit said.
"[The show] would inform their lives, yes," Ms. Davis said. "How can having cameras in front of you all the time not be invasive?"
The show's creators suggest no one knows whether they can be a reality star unless they try.
"Everyone has seen someone who is really just larger than life, incredibly colorful. They are so comfortable in their skin," Mr. Kusbit said. "It's important for these people to be who they are in their real lives."
First Published October 31, 2012 12:00 am