Tuesday, August 19, 2003

It's Nick & Jessica's show

Cincinnati may get some face time as 98° member and his pop-star wife debut 'Newlyweds,' MTV's new reality offering

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson star in MTV's new reality series "Newlyweds" that premieres tonight.
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If you're wondering what a reality TV show starring teen-pop-stars-in-transition Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey will be like, you're not alone. So are Jessica and Nick.

"We've only seen little snippets that they've put into a teaser," Lachey, 29, says of tonight's premiere of Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica. "I haven't seen an episode yet. I don't really know what the footage looks like, but everything we're hearing from the network and the critics has been good, so that's an encouraging sign."

The couple married on Oct. 26, 2002, and allowed MTV's cameras to begin following them, turning the results into that network's newest reality series.

The newlyweds have a big fall ahead of them.

Simpson's third pop CD, In This Skin (Sony; $12.98) hits stores today. Lachey's solo debut, Soulo (Universal; $18.98) comes Sept. 9 (his debut single, "I Swear," is also the Newlyweds theme). They'll celebrate their first anniversary in October. On Nov. 9, Lachey will turn 30, ancient in the teen-pop world.

Lachey, a member of the boy-band sensation 98°, grew up in Cincinnati and has been performing virtually his entire life. He attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts and, along with boyhood friend Justin Jeffre, played in such local bands as the Avenues. In that oldies band, the boys learned rock history basics from keyboardist George Haggis.

In the mid-90s, they moved to California and formed JustUs, a singing group modeled on Boyz II Men that included Cincinnatian Jonathan Lippmann and Massillon's Jeff Timmons. Lippmann left to pursue an acting career (he leads the Christian-pop boy band True Vibe) and was replaced by Nick's brother Drew. Changing their name to 98°, they signed to Motown and released their self-titled debut in 1997.

Known for their ballads and intricate harmonies, they scored hits with five albums and on such soundtracks as Mulan, Notting Hill and Snow Day.

But 98° is not done yet, according to Lachey. He says the group is on hiatus and will be back.

"We're very much still together. I was just in town (Cincinnati) this past weekend (Aug. 8-9) for the 98° Fan Fest. Our fans got together and planned this, and the four of us came in and hung out with some fans, just to let them know that we're still together and we've already started talking about the next record."

The quartet is still signed to Universal, but after non-stop touring for five years, they needed a rest, Lachey says.

"We're just taking a little break. We made that decision at the end of our last tour. Jeff was about to have his second kid and things had just gotten to the point where, as a group, we decided to focus a little more on our personal lives and take a break from being on the road."

Timmons has released a self-produced solo album, Whisper That Way, while Jeffre has been producing local talent. Drew is married to the group's choreographer (a high school friend from SCPA), living in Los Angeles near Nick and Jessica, and pursuing an acting career.

Unlike the rest, Nick's "personal life" will be on view at 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays on MTV.

"It's a unique opportunity, and like all things in the business, you just kind of go for it," says Lachey. "What I really hope people take away from (Newlyweds) is that we're very normal people."

But not too normal, viewers hope. MTV's The Osbournes is one tough, weird act to follow.

"We're taking over their little time slot and we're hoping it will be as kind to us as it was to them," Lachey says.

"We've had fewer years of drug abuse," he adds with a laugh. "But I think the concept of the show and the way it was produced will be fairly similar. But that's all. It's different people, different scenarios, different lives. We don't have dogs and kids. We got a whole 'nother set of issues going on."

The Lachey hometown will play a supporting role in Newlyweds, mostly because of other, older newlyweds.

"We shot in Cincinnati twice. My grandmother (Leigh Fopma) got married in May. Drew and I sang at the wedding, and we actually went to Kings Island while we were in town and they (MTV's film crew) followed us there. And just in July, my mom (Cate Fopma) got married, so we were in town again. We went to the Reds game in the new park, and they filmed us there."

Lachey and his group have always touted their hometown. They filmed a Disney Channel special at the Waterfront in 2000, and regularly wear Reds jerseys in concert.

"I'm trying to give Cincinnati its due. We've got a lot of hometown pride, so hopefully, we'll get it on there a few times."

MTV will do as many as 10 episodes of Newlyweds, at which point the couple hopes to parlay the exposure into an arena tour in the first quarter of 2004. But for now, along with the usual problems of a new marriage, Lachey has to deal with a wife more famous than he is.

"It's funny. Sometimes we stay in a hotel, and I call up room service and it's, 'Yes, Mr. Simpson.' And I always make a point to say, 'No, no, no, this isn't Mr. Simpson.' But I think, from a professional standpoint, she knows I'm her biggest fan and biggest supporter, and nothing would please me more than for her to blow up and get the attention and the success that she deserves."

If Newlyweds turns into MTV's next big reality series phenomenon, then maybe the next one will feature a rock 'n' roll couple with another former Cincinnatian - Carmen Electra and Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro. Now there's a reality show to make The Osbournes seem like Ozzy & Harriet.

Not 'The Osbournes'

How Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica is different from MTV's other reality TV couple, The Osbournes

1. Fewer bleeps (though Jessica has a bit of a potty mouth).

2. No neurotic, incontinent pets ("but we do have my brother Drew," offers Nick).

3. More brain cells, fewer flashbacks.

4. When the husband appears shirtless, it's for higher ratings, not cheap laughs.

5. Lots less furniture.

6. Husband's biggest addiction is TV sports.

7. Pimples, not wrinkles.

8. No satanic iconography.

9. No automatic weapons.

10 No ugly offspring ("but we do have my brother Drew").

On the air

What: Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica

When: 10:30 p.m. today

Where: MTV


E-mail lnager@enquirer.com

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