Sunday, August 29, 2004

Years ago, men were urged to get in touch with their feminine side.

In a few weeks, they’ll learn how to do just that on “He’s a Lady,” a new reality-TV series from the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), set to debut Oct. 12.

Fresh from their duties on NBC’s “Fear Factor,” the show’s producers are giving “11 macho men the opportunity to walk a mile in women’s shoes, when they are given a complete feminine makeover in the new original reality series,” TBS officials said Friday.

“Each week, the competitors will learn something new about what it’s like to live as a lady, from dealing with bras and jewelry to bonding with real women in typically all-female activities.”

Has the idea produced an outcry from those who believe the reality genre has finally gone too far?

“No, we’ve heard nothing,” TBS spokeswoman Michelle Sisco said. “The series is already shooting out in Los Angeles.”

Such things appear to be more popular than ever. There are just as many reality shows airing in the prime-time hours as there are sitcoms this fall, according to the Screen Actors Guild. The nation sees more than 20 “reality” hours a week — an increase of 128 percent since last year.

Many shows rely on controversial role reversals as their most basic premise — families who switch moms, Amish teenagers in the big city, rich girls in redneck country, city folks sent to live on the prairie.

Makeovers are another mainstay. Americans can’t get enough of homes, cars, personalities and faces that are retooled and unveiled for dramatic effect, though NBC’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” may be getting desperate. The show’s producers recently sent out a plea for “Iraq war veterans” who want a stylistic makeover.

Reality shows based on edgy challenges have also gotten inventive. PAX TV, for instance, will broadcast “Cold Turkey” this fall based on the drama of 10 chain-smokers who give up their cigarettes.

Challenging men to be women, however, appears to have originated in the slapstick realm.

Advance photos of “He’s a Lady” contestants reveal hulking men in pink gowns, 5 o’clock shadows and slingback shoes — looking more like Fred Flintstone in drag than men with serious gender issues.

The joke, apparently, is on them.

The 11 contestants “who temporarily leave behind their wives and girlfriends” have been told initially they’re competing in grueling physical challenges for a show called “All American Man.”

They will “actually be transformed,” TBS says, before a celebrity panel of judges including actress Morgan Fairchild and former Detroit Piston John Salley, with the winner ultimately receiving $250,000.

Weekly challenges include learning how to “behave like a lady,” followed by public appearances in feminine guise, supermodel training, bridesmaid duty and a final, ghastly appearance before old pals, friends and family.

TBS promises this is will be a “hilarious and heartwarming quest,” which ends with a beauty pageant and the quarter-of-a-million dollar question, “What, as a lady, have you learned about being a man?”

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