"If you build it..."
A little while ago I got a call from my friend Pete Griffin over at Think MTV. "We're going to build a green house for the Real World," he said. "Do you want to take the cast around for a tour?"
Right on...Real World. It's the show I gratuitously watched my second year at college. And I know I wasn't the only one. Real World is one of the most watched shows in the U.S. for people between the ages of 12-34. It has a devoted following, and this season of Real World: Hollywood marks its twentieth season running. Not bad considering most reality television these days last a season or two before getting the ax.
For those of you who may have never seen Real World, it goes like this: Seven young people come together--from all different walks of life. They live under one roof in a sweet pad in some city for a few months. Cameras watch their every move and we are voyeuristically entertained as their life unfolds.
Some people would say that the high-flying drama and random acts of sex take away from the message, but that's just not so. Don't fool yourself. We love that shit. People who are at the pulse of what's going on in a young person's brain know that all that environmental messaging doesn't have to be force-fed or so in-your-face. If two people just so happen to hop into the shower together "to save on water," then that's totally fine by us. We get it. We like it fluid, not contrived. If you're trying too hard, it's not cool any longer.
That's why building a green house on the set of Real World was more than a natural fit--it was perfect. "It's really the epitome of cool living for our generation," says Pete. Plus you can't force people to get involved," he adds. "Real World is a good opportunity to get the message out because it's a place where young people already are. We didn't have to create anything new."
And the MTV-generation is a good generation to reach out to. "Our audience is different from the conventional green audience," says Pete. "These are people that are not necessarily in environmental clubs, so this may be their first introduction to the issue. That alone is pretty ground-breaking." For a network that has paved the way for discussion on a lot of social issues facing young people--like having the first openly gay HIV positive character on TV and the first televised campaigns on sexual health and HIV--this is familiar territory.
Green Behind the Scenes
Pete actually got the idea of a Real World green house while at a D.C. green buildings expo. "I was walking around and looking at all the different models and technologies that we have now. I thought to myself, 'if I were to build a house today--and didn't know anything about environmentally-friendly stuff, I'd still do it eco because everything I was looking at was so cool.' I mean, the technology is here, the products are here."
Pete approached a number of green businesses to gauge their interest in providing a backdrop for the Real World house. The response was overwhelmingly positive. And when it came time to pitch the idea to the MTV production team and Bunim/Murray Productions--it was a surprisingly "short conversation," as he put it. "They thought it was an important issue and wanted to do it right off the bat."
The Real World house, however, is no ordinary house. It's a full-on production studio equipped with offices, microphones, cameras, control room, sound, and lighting. "It was great to build the house green, but the reality is that it is a production studio" says Pete, "I set myself up to be underwhelmed, but what happened was the complete opposite!"
"Jim Johnston--the Executive Producer, Fabian Andre, and Morgan Cohen really went out of the way to make the house and the actual production as green as possible, which is no minor undertaking," assures Pete. "The success of the house and the environmentally-friendly practices and products can be attributed to Bunim/Murray. They really wanted to be a champion for the issue."
It's sooo true too. Jim took Pete and I for a little tour behind-the-scenes before the cast arrived at the house, (which is actually made in an old studio where I Love Lucy had been filmed). Some of it was simple things: None of the furniture was flown in. Instead they used all the desks, chairs, and filing cabinets that had previously been there. They opted for energy-efficient light bulbs whenever possible. Some of the house was actually run off-the-grid. They tried to cut down on plastic bottle waste by getting jugs of water. Composting and recycling were happening both on and off the screen. "You have to meet Morgan," Jim laughed, "You'll love her. She's got us composting and recycling, which is not always an easy thing to do on set," he said. "If we get lazy, she sets us straight."
Lights, Camera, Action
Pete and I didn't really know what to expect from the cast, but their reactions was the same as ours: This is totally cool!
"Yah, I thought their reaction was like most young Americans," Pete agreed. "'This is amazing, this is cool, I just didn't know about it.' You know," he said, "A lot of young people are like that. They know about these issues a little bit, know it's important, but that is where it ends. Getting people to take the next step is the problem. We try to create different on ramps to this highway. If you are like most young people in our audience, you can see or read about different ways on how to get involved. Just by starting that conversation will lead to bigger and better things."
"There's a misconception about young people today," says Pete. "People think that they are apathetic or that they don't care, but they are really just overwhelmed with messaging. Every day we get hit with information--from websites to videos to cell phones to advertising to mobile technologies. It's not apathy as much as it is sifting through information, finding out what is applicable to your life, and how you can get involved. Young people very much want to be part of a movement, feel as if they are part of something, but it's got to resonate with them."
That's for damn certain. And I think our generation couldn't agree more. We're the life of the party...that is...if you think to invite us.
"Young people have definitely been part of the shift to cool," Pete tells me. "When we started our Break the Addiction campaign with Energy Action during Earth Day 2006, it ran parallel to An Inconvenient Truth. It's not like MTV's environmental campaign happened because we watched An Inconvenient Truth--it's because we were keeping our fingers to the pulse of what young people were already building."
"That is how we cover the issues that we cover," assures Pete. "When young people are making noise, we listen and try to provide the platforms for them to make noise about what they are doing. The young people have taken the torch from the environmentalists of the 70s and 80s and we have reached a critical juncture in this issue. The mass media started to pick up on it. It caused this movement to rise above the noise. Up until this point, there were some blips on the radar--Earth Day here, a march there, but now...it's a consistent drum beat. The movement now has momentum and people are listening."
Watch and comment on some of the previews of the house tour here.