TV Article

Lifestyles of the Kitsch and Semi-Famous

Mix a dash of 'E! True Hollywood Story,' a pinch of 'Real World,' and a big helping of broken dreams, and you have THE SURREAL LIFE, The WB's new reality experiment.

For seven formerly famous faces, it has all come down to this: the Babylon Court at the Hollywood & Highland mall. The housemates of The WB's new reality show The Surreal Life are out selling tickets for a backyard-barbecue talent show taking place later that evening. But these are no ordinary housemates. Corey Feldman, best known for 1980s hit movies like Stand by Me and The Goonies, drug scandals, and -- to a lesser extent -- bizarre Michael Jackson impersonations, is trying to push tickets on a pair of twentysomething women. ''Are you the real Corey Feldman?'' one asks. ''Yes, I'm not a look-alike,'' replies the Dream a Little Dream star, removing his sunglasses as proof. ''Yeah, he just looks a little different,'' agrees the other. Meanwhile, M.C. Hammer, whose 1990 hit ''U Can't Touch This'' helped the rapper sell more than 20 million records worldwide, is pleading with tourists to shell out $20 to come see the show and sample his home cooking.

A few feet away, Survivor: The Australian Outback rabble- rouser Jerri Manthey is haggling with a self-proclaimed struggling actor to buy a pass for a measly buck. It is the only dollar she will make all day. Former Playboy Playmate of the Year and Baywatch Hawaii star Brande Roderick is also experiencing slow sales, but she still manages to unload some tickets on her old Baywatch boss, David Hasselhoff, who just happens to be out shopping with his kids for Halloween (or so he claims). Beverly Hills 90210 bookworm Gabrielle Carteris sees a familiar face as well -- her husband's. His deep pockets help Gabs pocket a cool $665.

On the other side of the Court, former Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil is being serenaded by a devotee who's out to prove he knows all the words to ''Dr. Feelgood.'' He seems to want Vince to join in. Vince does not join in. Emmanuel Lewis is having his own fan issues: An excited middle-aged man, clutching an energy drink, has approached to ask, ''Were you in Diff'rent Strokes?'' The pint-size Webster star politely corrects him. ''That was Gary Coleman. I'm the other short black guy.''

Just one year ago, being ''the other short black guy'' from the 1980s didn't buy you dinner in this town. Now it gets you your own reality show. MTV's The Osbournes proved that America loves seeing a celebrity deal with life's more mundane moments, while celeb editions of Fear Factor and Boot Camp showed the appeal of placing familiar faces in contrived and utterly ridiculous situations. By recruiting these seven C-listers to live and sleep in a house together for 10 days, The Surreal Life (debuting Jan. 9) is trying to tap both reality-TV wells.

But isn't watching former celebs relegated to arguing over groceries a bit, well, depressing? For their part, the housemates are very conscious of the humiliation factor and only a day earlier were refusing to take part in the talent-show idea. ''I don't want to be on national television f -- -ing trying to juggle!'' said Neil then. ''That ain't gonna happen. We just don't want it to look like a monkey show, and that's the fear of everybody.'' Especially Lewis: ''I take my craft very seriously, and it almost seems like they're poking fun at what we do,'' he said. ''I don't do talent shows. To me, this feels like a step backwards.'' (Lewis and company change their minds when it is revealed that proceeds from the talent show will go to charity, the great humiliation annihilator.)

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