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Lifetime's Scripted Drama 'Unreal' Goes Behind The Scenes Of Reality TV


If you would never watch a television show like "The Bachelor," or if it's your guilty pleasure, well, a new drama called "UnREAL" may be equally appealing.


SHIRI APPLEBY: (As Rachel) OK, well, ladies, we are just a few minutes away, so do you want to know who the suitor is?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character #1) Oh, my gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character #2) Yes.

APPLEBY: (As Rachel) His name is Adam Cromwell. He is the British heir to the Cromwell Hotel fortune.

BLOCK: "UnREAL" premieres tonight on Lifetime. It's a scripted show about reality TV, and it's a show that critics are taking notice of. That includes our pop culture blogger, Linda Holmes, who joins me now. Welcome, Linda.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: And you're a fan. What's the back story of "UnREAL?"

HOLMES: Well, "UnREAL" is - it's basically a short film from a couple of years ago that was written and directed by a woman named Sarah Shapiro who had been a producer on "The Bachelor." And she made this film about a young producer who was struggling with her conscience in the capacity of her job, and that's what the show is, too. It follows this young producer whose job it is to go around and kind of gen up drama and manipulate mostly the women on this show to get them all excited or make them cry or make them, you know, make these grand emotional statements about how important it is to her. She helps develop the villains and the - you know, the good guys and bad guys. And she's become very ambivalent about this job and that's sort of where the story begins.

BLOCK: I've only seen a tiny bit of the first episode, but the first time that we see her, the producer, she's wearing a T-shirt that says this is what a feminist looks like.

HOLMES: She sure is. It's a really interesting moment because what they are getting at there is that she sees herself in a certain way. She's very proud of being a feminist. She sees herself as an intelligent person. And yet, she feels like she's in this job where she's not really acting like a feminist and she's not really acting maybe like an intelligent person.

BLOCK: It does seem like low hanging fruit to me. I mean, is this pure satire? Is there - are there sympathetic characters here?

HOLMES: You know, it is low hanging fruit in a way. I think for a lot of people it's very easy to make fun of shows like this and also make fun of people who watch them. But the show has a lot of compassion for the people who work on this show and the people who are on it. But everybody is human and a lot of times things that seem like how could anyone get involved in something like this are things where maybe it's not what people planned for their lives, but they wind up discovering - in the case of this young producer, Rachel, she discovers a talent for kind of working with these women and befriending them and then ultimately putting them in these terrible positions. But she essentially finds a talent she doesn't really want to use, which is a complex kind of problem.

BLOCK: What do you think this show means for Lifetime, the cable network? I mentioned that you seem to like what you've seen. The show's been getting some pretty strong reviews.

HOLMES: Yeah, you know, Lifetime has been making scripted shows for quite a while. It's had some that have been well-liked - "Army Wives" is one. There have certainly been others. But I do think that this is a step up for them as far as the possibility that they might see a little more, maybe, awards recognition for particularly some of the performances in this show. So I do think for them it's a little bit of an advance into that whole world of making more of this kind of prestige drama, as unlikely of a venue for it as this seems like it is.

BLOCK: And the series "UnREAL" premieres tonight. Linda Holmes, our pop culture blogger, thanks for talking to us about it.

HOLMES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.