For "Real World: Ex-plosion," seven strangers were picked to live in a house ... with their exes. It's a story we've heard over and over again from MTV's "The Real World," except for that last part. When MTV announced it would change up its 22-year-old franchise, no one really cared. "The Real World" had become near-obsolete in a TV landscape filled with hundreds of reality shows.
"We’re now in a world of 'Duck Dynasty' and 'Jersey Shore' and 'Honey Boo Boo,'" Jon Murray, the original creator and executive producer of "The Real World," told HuffPost TV. "It seems like younger people who grew up with this more recent kind of reality were finding our show a little irrelevant. It just wasn’t must-see TV for them."
In an attempt to engage younger viewers, Murray and his team cast seven housemates, who were all admittedly terrible at relationships. Halfway through the show, MTV sent their exes to live in the house. "For young people in their early twenties, an ex is often the first person you ever loved, the first person you ever had sex with," Murray said. "There’s often a sense of possession of each other." Slaps, round-house kicks, cheating and an unexpected pregnancy fueled drama that steadily built over 12 episodes.
It worked. The show saw a significant ratings spike (10 percent) between the ex-less episode and the ex-filled episode. According to the network in a statement given to HuffPost TV, the show is pacing to be the highest-rated season in three years, the number one program across all TV in its timeslot with 18-24-year-olds, averaging 1.9 million viewers. For comparison, last year's "Real World: Portland" averaged 1.5 million viewers.
MTV has also changed the way the show does transitions and editing, giving viewers visual cues that this isn't any ordinary "Real World" season. Unlike previous versions, "Ex-plosion" shows the cast looking directly at the camera, addressing the cameramen, and talking to producers in interviews. At various points in the season, producers even drop video files onto the cast's computer, hoping to stir up trouble.
The season finale airs tonight, April 2, but before the "Ex-plosion" blows up (based on this year's fist fights, it really might), Murray broke down all the changes and gave an inside sneak peek at what it took to make "The Real World: Ex-plosion."
Why MTV broke down what we're calling a "fifth wall," by airing when the cast acknowledges they were on a TV show:
"They’ve always done that, we’ve just never shown it. We felt like maybe it was time to acknowledge our presence. Sometimes when a cast member would avoid a question, unless you used that question you really don’t get that they’re avoiding the question. In a world where maybe some reality shows are becoming a little fake, we thought, 'Let’s show how real this is.' We’ll definitely continue that feel as we go forward in future seasons."
This season, for the first time since Seattle, MTV showed the footage to the cast before it aired. Here's why:
"We thought, 'Let’s be open to the idea that maybe when they don’t see things, let’s show them.' The producers would talk about that with them in the interviews. They’d say, 'You said blah blah, but you actually kissed that girl.' It’s another way of showing that. Let’s talk about what happened. We didn’t end up using it as much as we thought we were going to. We didn’t need it as we thought we might."
What happened to Real Worlders getting jobs?
"Starting with Miami, we set up some job placements for them with a bunch of different companies that were open to hiring people. They’d go have an interview and we’d see what happened. It did help to integrate them and we did that off and on. This year we actually did, again, provide them with some job opportunities. We listed a bunch of places that were open to hiring them. But none of the cast members ended up taking advantage of it. We moved to sort of giving them the opportunities if they wanted to take those opportunities."
On why "OGs vs. New Gs" became a huge plot point:
"I think that it’s natural that the group there initially would bond. There’s nothing like making people bond and moving a bunch of other people in. There were a couple who we had to have conversations with, who were like, 'This isn’t what I signed up for.' But, I think that’s human nature, whenever someone new arrives in a neighborhood or in a fraternity, there’s this feeling."
Who was cast first, the original or the ex?
"As soon as we had someone who seems like an interesting cast member, we then reached out to the exes as part of our process. We do this normally, quite honestly. We want to know who’s been in their life, who’s involved in their life, to get a sense of them. Not only to reference check them and find out what they were like in the previous relationship, but we want to know everything about them. As we started to show different cast members to MTV we would cut these little four or five-minutes tapes that would include not only the cast member, but also interviews with people they’d had the most interesting relationships with. So, as we and MTV started to evaluate who would be on the show, we definitely were looking at the cast member, their ex and what we thought about that relationship."
This season turned into an all-out fight club at some points. What happened to the no-violence policy?
"It’s never been a black and white case. We really don’t want physical violence, but we don’t want to play big brother. We don’t want to be the adults in the house. We want the cast members to work their situations out with each other. We assess what was the act? How many days are there left in production? How comfortable do we feel with that person staying? We try to leave it up the house members. Do you all feel like you want the person out? If so, we’ll support you in that."
Next season will be a whole other ball game:
"We’re casting right now and we are in talks with MTV about what the next season is going to be. We have a bunch of ideas that we’ve looked at when we were looking to do 'Ex-Plosion'. There will be something fun next season."
"The Real World: Ex-Plosion" season finale airs Wednesday, April 2, at 10 p.m. EDT on MTV.