Wednesday, August 02, 2000

KIESEWETTER: Teens on 'real' show stress how real it is

        The students of American High,Fox's new reality series culled from video diaries, argued that their show was more real than MTV's Real World.

        But that doesn't make American High, shot last year at Highland Park High School in suburban Chicago, any more compelling than the MTV reality series — or CBS' boring Big Brother.

        “We are the closest (show) you can get to reality,” said Morgan Moss, one of the 14 students to participate in the documentary film directed by Oscar-nominee R.J. Cutler (The War Room).

        “We're living in our real houses. This is the way life is. We get (video) cameras where we get to talk about what we're feeling,” Morgan told TV critics on the summer press tour recently.

        The seven-week series was assembled from 800 hours of video diaries shot by 14 students, plus another 2,000 hours of film shot last school year by two film crews.

        “A lot of kids my age ... are so eager to see people that they can relate to on TV, because they've got all of these shows like 90210, and all that,things that you really can't relate to because they're big TV stars ... and it's all acting,” Morgan told TV critics.

Not for adults
        American High may strike a nerve with teens, but not their parents.

        With American High, you get what you would expect from diaries of 16- to 18-year-olds — worries about acne, concerns over a boyfriend going to college (“He's like my life,” Sarah Mages said), and the rants of Morgan rebelling against his parents, teachers and all other authority figures.

        “These are the years you're supposed to go (bleeping) wild ... It's the time to go do whatever the hell you want,” said Morgan in tonight's episode while banging on drums in his basement — as his mother shouted down the stairs for quiet.

  What: American High
  When: 9 and 9:30 p.m. today
  Where: Channels 19, 45
        In the debut hour — the first of seven hours on Fox through Sept. 13 — Morgan will be seen shooting off firecrackers, refusing to get out of the car for a doctor's appointment, complaining that people call him “immature” and arguing with his parents, whom he calls a word that can't be printed in this newspaper. (Fox doesn't bleep it out.)

        His exchange with a student named Duncan sums up his bullet-proof mentality that will drive adults crazy:

        Morgan: “That's so sad, doing homework.”

        Duncan: “But I pass my classes.”

        Morgan: “Yeah, but I have fun in life.”

        Duncan: “But I don't get D's.”

        No, you didn't hear that on Beverly Hills 90210 or Dawson's Creek. But what viewers will hear from the other two kids featured in the premiere — Sarah obsessed with her boyfriend Robby Nathan — won't be much different from the scripted romances on most teen dramas.

        “It's like a shock, you know, to watch your life on TV,” Sarah told TV critics. “I'm not embarrassed of my feelings ... One of the greatest parts about the show is we're all honest with our feelings.

        “I hope that there are other kids in the world that are going through the same kind of issues I'm going through, and look at me and say, "Wow. She's OK.'”

More real than real
        Said Bobby, who called the MTV show the Fake World: “This show is just so much more intense and real. It's the real reality, you know, which is like the most intriguing thing in the world to watch.”

        Gail Berman, Fox Entertainment president, pointed out that her network bought the concept 15 months before the debut of CBS' Survivor. Production began “last summer before anyone was ever voted off an island,” she said.

        “I think it's very instructive to see what's going on in American high schools, and with American youth today,” she says.

        Though a few curse words have been bleeped from the film, it won't be hard to guess what the kids are saying.

        “Language is such a big part of this whole experience,” Mr. Cutler told TV critics. “And what these guys are saying is what matters, the way they're saying it, the emotion behind it.”

        He claimed that the language was “bleeped consistent with (Fox) network standards.” The first half-hour has been rated TV-PG-D-L (unsuitable for younger children; contains coarse language and suggestive sexual dialogue). The second half-hour has been rated TV-14-L (unsuitable for children under 14, with strong language).

        Meeting with TV critics, Morgan admitted that he volunteered for the video diary project because he always wanted to be an actor and to be famous. And he will be, after tonight.

        Kids may love Morgan's antics, but by the second half-hour tonight parents will cheer the high school teacher who told him: “If I had some duct tape, I'd duct tape your mouth!”

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