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When Un-Real premieres later this year on Lifetime, viewers will get a peak of sorts behind the scenes of a Bachelor-esque reality show.
Onstage Friday to preview the Lifetime series for members of the Television Critics Association, co-creators Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro spoke candidly about the often dark world of unscripted television, which they’re prepared to shed light on. “The show is as dramatic and dark as it is satirical,” Noxon teased, noting that the writers had frequent conversations in the room about keeping it grounded and truthful.
Their 10-episode scripted drama, which was born out of Shapiro’s short film Sequin Gaze, will center on the experiences of a young staffer on a hit reality dating show, played by Shiri Appleby, whose lone job is to manipulate the relationships with (and among) the contestants to get the vital dramatic and outrageous footage that her producers demand.
During the half-hour event, the producers were pressed on how much “real” is in Un-Real, particularly since Shapiro worked on these types of reality shows earlier in her career. But while their show-within-the-show is inspired by dating competition shows like The Bachelor and Joe Millionaire, she and Noxon insisted that it’s not based on any one of them. Rather, they found themselves intrigued by the moral quandaries and a sense of longing that the world offers. Said Shapiro: “It’s a fishbowl of people who are trying to find love.”
The producers, who say they were inspired by other behind-the-scenes projects like Broadcast News, stressed how important it was to try to humanize their characters, even if many end up more antiheroes than heroes. If the producers can strike the right balance, viewers should be able to feel equal compassion for the show’s staffers, which includes Constance Zimmer, as they do the contestants.
Although season one is still months away, the producers say they’re already giving thought to where a potential second season could go. Among the ideas being explored: altering the nature of the show-within-the-show, which could lead to a location change as well as casting, with only some of the series’ cast remaining.
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