ETonline: Up until EXplosion, the format of The Real World had pretty much been the
same. But now you’re changing up how the dynamic works in the house. Can you
talk about why that is?
Jonathan Murray: When
we started The Real World back in
’92, there weren’t a lot of other reality shows on the air. And what we were
doing at that time – putting seven people in a house from different backgrounds
– was very different from anything else in the television landscape. Our story
came from their inexperience of living with people different from themselves,
and that resulted in conflict, and that conflict resulted in growth, and that
was our story arc. Flash forward 28 seasons later, there are lots of reality
shows on the air now, and we were feeling like our show was feeling a little
quaint. And part of it was our own fault, because by featuring people from
diverse backgrounds we had actually helped, at least our young people, change
their perspective on diversity.
Today’s MTV audience embraces diversity. They love
diversity. So, some of the stories that we were telling just didn’t feel as
relevant for our audience. Someone struggling with coming out and living openly
gay, that was somewhat revolutionary in 1992, but not so much now. We felt we
needed to find another way to really get deeper story. So, starting last
season, season 29, we added a theme to the season and last year’s theme was
exes. This year it’s skeletons. We still cast seven diverse people. Much of the
show is still the same. We don’t direct them, we don’t tell them what to say,
but we added this element – last season with exes and this season with
skeletons – that allows us to delve deeper into what we think is a relevant
story for our audiences. In the case of EXplosion,
your ex is often the first person you had sex with, the first person you felt
that sort of truly life-changing bond with, and you often measure every future
relationship by that first relationship, so there was something there to
explore that we found interesting. With Skeletons,
we’ve all had unfinished business in our life with people. We’ve all done
things that maybe if we look back, we weren’t completely proud of. So with Skeletons, each week someone is going to
show up at the house who has unfinished business with one of our cast members,
and that is going to allow us to explore an interesting issue.
With that in mind,
are you worried at all that it’s no longer just seven strangers in the house? You’re
introducing a lot more characters and potentially distracting the cast members from
that core concept.
No, not at all because we saw with last season that actually
the outside people coming into the house in some ways bonded our cast members much
quicker. Also, the outside people don’t start arriving until about week four. The
house is pretty much bonded by that point. We’ve already seen relationships
develop, and then is when we are ready to introduce the new element. We were
really, really pleased with how EXplosion
went, and we are even more pleased with how Skeletons
Is the change a
reaction to the fact that, now that the show has been on for so long and people
have seen it, they know what to expect or play a certain character thinking
that that’s how they will be portrayed on TV?
I haven’t found that to be the case. It’s very hard to
portray something when you’re in the house for as long as you are on The Real World. Our job in casting is to
really get to know the people we’re going to put in the house and to really make
sure we’re convinced that who they are in casting is who they are going to be
when they walk in that house. Even if there’s a momentary thing, where maybe
they’re playing to the camera, we’ve found that’s going to fall away very
quickly because you can’t just keep up an act for multiple weeks in the house.
Let’s talk about
casting a little bit. When I talk to all of my friends, we’ve all auditioned
for The Real World at some point.
Everybody has submitted a tape, or has gone to the open casting calls. What’s
the casting process like now? Do you only scout and look for people who you
think are going to be good for the show?
We don’t do the big open calls anymore, and we actually do
much more outreach now where we actually go out and find those interesting
people who we think would be good on the show. We’re still looking for
diversity, that’s important to us, but in the case of EXplosion, we had to find people who had an interesting history
with their ex. In the cases of Skeletons,
we had to find people who had unfinished business with people in their lives.