New York Using the glow from 29 TV monitors as their light source, producers of MTV's "The Real World" are huddled in a Greenwich Village apartment, waiting for something to happen.
It doesn't have to be something big. An act as simple as setting a pot of water on the stove to boil or going out to buy a bottle of wine can easily be the launching pad for a story line in MTV's pioneering, voyeur-driven reality series.
"We're looking for little gems," director Victor Mignatti explains at the start of a 10-hour shift that he'll spend peering in on the four women and three men who compose the cast of the weekly show, now in its 10th season. This year's prime-time players make their home in a multilevel, 4,000-square-foot former sausage factory that was converted into a spacious brownstone.
"What makes the show is not the histrionics that you sometimes get between cast members, but the subtle words they exchange, or even a glance between them," Mignatti says. "It's all about looking for what's really going on in a situation."
For this year's "Real World," MTV brought the show back to Manhattan, site of its inaugural season in 1991. The cable channel plans to roll out "Real World: New York" with an expanded one-hour premiere on July 3 at 9 p.m. CDT. After that, the half-hour series is scheduled to take over its usual Tuesday at 9 p.m. time slot through December.
Regarded as the granddaddy of reality series, "The Real World" has stayed essentially the same for a decade: put a group of twentysomethings from diverse backgrounds in a lavishly decorated house for five months or so, give them a job that requires them to work together, and make them share everything from the household budget to their feelings about race relations.
"Having a culturally and ethnically diverse cast is the basis of the show," says Mary-Ellis Bunim, creator and executive producer of "The Real World" with partner Jon Murray.
"It's always been about telling a story using the lives of real people, not scripted characters," she says.
Each episode typically takes more than a month to weave together, and editors often won't determine where the plot is going until they view the entire five months' worth of footage.
"It's a little like working on wet paint," says producer Russ Heldt. "We never know how the cast will end up until their last night."