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The Hollywood Reporter Unveils 2013 Reality Heat List

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    Reality Issue
    Family-Oriented
    Joe Pugliese
    From left: Lilly Ghalichi, Reza Farahan and Mercedes “MJ” Javid
    'The Shahs of Sunset'
    Bravo's Take on the Immigrant Experience

    This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    Humility and an understated tone are not what you might expect from Reza Farahan. After all, on Bravo's Shahs of Sunset, he's not only the group's resident social director but also its glam ringleader and usually the first castmember to throw out the B-word with the wave of a finger. But even Farahan is flabbergasted by the runaway success of the show (2.9 million viewers tuned in during Shahs' season-two high, and in the key adults 18-to-49 demo, the series was up 49 percent, season-over-season, to 1.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, putting it on par with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and the Real Housewives franchise).

    "I never thought it would go as far as it has," says the 39-year-old real estate agent. The series' ultimate appeal: that the Persian-American experience is like that of any immigrant culture. "Very family-oriented and career-minded," is how Farahan characterizes the experience of his cast and other similar groups. "They love each other, and they love this country."

    PHOTOS: THR's Reality Heat List Photos: 'The Bachelor,' 'Shahs of Sunset,' Lisa Vanderpump 

    And fans love the drama. Indeed, there's never a dull moment in the lives of these six affluent Beverly Hills friends, among them Golnesa "GG" Gharachedaghi, Asa Soltan Rahmati, Mike Shouhed, Mercedes "MJ" Javid and newcomer Lilly Ghalichi, who's still grappling with the self-censorship required in the reality-TV environment. "Private moments are exposed and your every word is criticized, so I need to be a little more careful and more PC," she says. "But I don't want to be fake."

    To the contrary, the Shahs' very real conflicts and issues -- Farahan's homosexuality, Gharachedaghi's anger-management problem, cultural and generational divides -- point to a deeper struggle rooted in past prejudice. "I grew up [in the U.S.] during the hostage crisis, and from that point on, the only thing I ever heard from people about my culture was negative and related to fanaticism or terrorism," explains Farahan. "It took the strength of a Ryan Seacrest and a network like Bravo to put six Middle Easterners on television in a post 9/11 world. … I have people on Twitter who are Latin, European, you name it, and want to be Persian. That's insane to me." The downside? Says Javid, "Not being able to go to the grocery store with your hair up in a bun unless you're willing to have people tweet about it."

    The positive audience response to the series prompted Bravo to sign Shahs for a third season. But the castmembers' over-the-top antics clearly are part of the appeal -- and Farahan, for one, hopes to push some of the outrageous behavior into the background next season. "Putting six opinionated, hotheaded Persians in one location and bringing in alcohol unfortunately sometimes ends very dramatically," he says. "I wouldn't mind seeing less of that."

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