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Hollywood Analysis: What is reality?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- With CBS planning a reality-based version of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and Fox giving "Green Acres" the same treatment, it's only natural to speculate about other TV classics that might adapt well to reality TV.

The plan is to place "normal" people in situations similar to those facing the Clampett family in "The Beverly Hillbillies" (CBS, 1961-72) and Oliver and Lisa Douglas in "Green Acres" (CBS, 1965-71) -- and see how they face life in new and challenging environs.

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Imagine how much fun it will be for viewers to see real country folk adapting to life in a mansion with indoor plumbing and a "cement pond" out back. Imagine the pressure on their Beverly Hills neighbors -- who may have to choose between embracing the new folks (ugh!) and looking snooty with the camera rolling.

A reality version of "Green Acres" is not even original enough to be called a second-hand idea.

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Not only would the show be based on a classic, it would also bear a strong family resemblance to "Frontier House" -- the PBS series about modern people trying to live as settlers did in the time of the Wild West. That series was actually derivative of the PBS series "The 1900 House," in which a family spent three months living as they might have in Victorian England, with gaslight instead of electricity, whalebone corsets and no shampoo.

So, what other TV classics would make compelling viewing in the 21st century if repackaged in reality form?

Let's reach for the top -- "I Love Lucy" (CBS, 1951-61).

Take a young couple -- he's an entertainer who strongly disapproves of his daffy wife's apparently unscratchable itch to get into show business -- and settle them in a New York apartment where their downstairs neighbors are also the landlord and landlady. What you get is sort of a cross between "Friends" and "American Idol," with real people going to lengths Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel could not have -- given the sensibilities of America in the 1950s.

The 1960s were a bit looser, but there were places that even the scandalous "Peyton Place" (ABC, 1964-69) dared not go.

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The small New England town had its share of extramarital affairs and other assorted sexual scandals, but the network standards and practices department still had some clout in those days. There's no telling what camera crews could record now, given the time and access to a small community eager to get on TV for a whole season.

Think of it as "The Jerry Springer Show" on location.

"Mod Squad" (ABC, 1968-73) was about three troubled young people who segued from a life of crime to a life of crime fighting. "Mod Squad '02" could profitably follow the real life adventures of contemporary kids -- presumably with paid-up health coverage -- who save their own hides by helping police hunt down and apprehend other criminals.

You could do a similar update with "It Takes a Thief" (ABC, 1968-70), in which Robert Wagner starred as a cat burglar who gets caught, and saves his own skin by making a deal to steal for a super-secret U.S. spy agency. It might be difficult, though, to find a contemporary U.S. spy shop that would be willing to cooperate with such a show.

An up-to-the-minute rendering of "I Led Three Lives" (syndicated, 1953-56) would be vastly entertaining. Richard Carlson starred as Herb Philbrick, who spent the McCarthy era living as an ordinary citizen while secretly posing as a member of the Communist Party -- and functioning all the while as a counterspy for the FBI.

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A reality version of that could be dynamite. Finding a "player" willing to lose everything for the sake of commercial entertainment could be quite a challenge, but probably not as challenging as arranging the deal with the FBI.

One TV classic stands out as potentially the richest goldmine for adaptation into a reality series -- "All in the Family" (CBS, 1971-92).

In the original, America laughed at the fictional bigot who railed against a changing world even as it invaded his own home -- formerly his castle. How much fun it would be to put a TV crew in the home of a real Archie Bunker?

Now that political correctness has been effectively muzzled as a legitimate political expression, the new Archie -- the real Archie -- could be 100 times as outrageous as the one who lives on in TV Land. He might even make America forget how obnoxious the fictional Archie was when he invaded our homes more than 30 years ago.

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