- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Yo. Forget the “Queer Eye” quintet of cheeky homosexual gents who make over straight guys via new window treatments and uncuffed pants once a week on NBC.

Terminal Caucasian dullards now get their turn.

The Showtime cable network plans to offer “Make Me Cool,” a reality show that homes in on America’s preoccupation with the ever-changing world of hip black culture: the clothes, the music, the language.

Essentially, four very hip black hosts will make over clueless white contestants — and the untrendy among other races as well — in the course of several hourlong prime-time episodes this fall.

Showtime entertainment President Robert Greenblatt is poised to take on the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” harbingers of taste, sartorial demeanor and the cocktail hour.

“I think the dialogue between different cultures and races will be more explicit and frank,” Mr. Greenblatt told the Hollywood Reporter. “This will be more sociologically interesting than what fork to use and how to make a mushroom roulade.”

Says Showtime spokesman Brian Byrd, “‘Cool’ is still very much in the works.”

Showtime is owned by Viacom — which counts CBS, MTV, UPN, VH-1, BET, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central among its many properties.

Comedy Central, in fact, debuted its own makeover spoof last night: “Straight Plan for the Gay Man” featured four regular joes advising a homosexual man on home and fashion. The show has been criticized by the Advocate, a publication for homosexual men, because it “mocks what most gay men are insecure about — seeming ‘too gay’ or not ‘straight-acting’ enough.”

Producers at music channel MTV, meanwhile, are seeking contestants for 37 reality shows — including college boys with “crazy jealous” girlfriends, student business owners, and youngsters plagued by meddlesome or overprotective parents.

The cachet of bizarre and unpredictable situations pays off in some demographic sectors, however: 11 of the top 20 shows among 18- to 34-year-olds are reality-based, according to Nielsen ratings released Wednesday.

But success is tricky.

CBS, for example, was criticized last year by angry advocates at the Tennessee-based Center for Rural Strategies and 43 members of Congress after network Chief Executive Officer Les Moonves proposed a reality version of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” featuring simple mountain folk in a glitzy Los Angeles mansion.

Fox, on the other hand, trumped the ratings a few weeks ago with “The Simple Life,” a reverse situation placing glamorous trust-fund baby Paris Hilton and a girlfriend in a farm town for a month, flaunting their stiletto heels and a pet Chihuahua.

But the undaunted Mr. Moonves has a new project.

“Amish in the City,” to be produced by sister network UPN, will feature five sheltered Amish teenagers let loose in Hollywood during their “rumspringa,” the short-lived time when the teens are allowed to “run around” before making a commitment to the Amish community.

Again, cultural advocates are on the prowl.

Rep. Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican who represents about 20,000 Amish, called on Mr. Moonves, whose network has been on the firing line over Janet Jackson’s antics at the Super Bowl halftime show, to abandon the project.

“This series is not a documentary on how Amish teenagers struggle with their cultural and religious identity. It’s a deliberate attempt to exploit the beliefs and practices of the Amish,” Mr. Pitts said in a speech Friday in Willow Creek, Pa.

“Unless CBS wants a permanent reputation as the network of sleaze and disrespect, I suggest they cancel this program, too, before it ever starts,” he said.

According to news reports, Amish youngsters in Pennsylvania and Indiana already have been approached by UPN producers promising to make them “TV stars.”

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