Spotlight On Bands Reunited

Group Therapy

VH1 struggles to get ''Bands Reunited'' -- The second season of the reality show has a more difficult time getting the former members of faded '80s acts to perform together again

Joey McIntyre doesn't know it yet, but he's about to get punk'd. . . VH1-style. The baby-faced ex-New Kid on the Block thinks he's sitting down for a routine press junket at a trendy lower-Manhattan lounge to promote his new film ''Tony n' Tina's Wedding.'' But just 15 minutes into the meeting, his interviewer, VH1's Aamer Haleem, smoothly goes in for the kill with a disarming, well-oiled sell. One member of New Kids has already agreed to appear on VH1's ambush reality show, ''Bands Reunited'' -- and Joey, do you really want to be the one who denies your loyal fans one last chance to hear the band? Joey is all smiles, then drops his own bomb: Thanks, but no thanks. Well aware that many former ''Tiger Beat'' pinups aren't eager to embrace their poppy pasts, Haleem is slightly jarred but undeterred. He launches a half-hour counteroffensive, yet McIntyre remains firm. ''Good luck,'' he says politely. ''I'm always available. . . to talk on the phone.''

In the unruly and always unpredictable world of ''Bands Reunited,'' persuading faded pop stars to revisit their heydays is no small feat. While the show's first season averaged a paltry 500,000 viewers, it generated strong buzz and boosted VH1's time-slot average by 33 percent -- all enough for the network to order another 10-episode cycle of the docudrama/talent show. (The first episode premieres Monday, Sept. 6, at 10 p.m.)

The bizarrely transfixing spectacle of reassembling random '80s relics like Berlin, Klymaxx, and Kajagoogoo catapulted the series to immediate cult status. But executive producer Julio Kollerbohm believes viewers are responding to the universal theme of mending fractured relationships. ''These bands are like dysfunctional families that haven't spoken in sometimes 10 to 20 years. They're making peace with that period of their lives,'' he says. ''Even if [the reunion doesn't happen], it's going to make for good TV.''

Good TV, in this case, requires an insane amount of planning -- season 2 took nearly 10 months. The producers make a list of every mildly successful pop act from the last 30 years (success, of course, is relative: season 1's Dramarama, anyone?) and begin weeks of research to determine if a reunion is feasible. This includes scouring the Internet and discreetly feeling out band members' old friends and associates. Once the producers decide to ambush a band, patience is key. ''It's almost like 'Groundhog Day,''' explains host Haleem, '''cause we go through the same thing over and over again, hiding out in a parking lot for five hours, looking at our feet, waiting for them to come home from their job.'' Indeed, the 12-person crew criss-crosses states and continents on a daily basis. ''Our lives are in constant flux,'' Haleem insists. ''A few days ago we were supposed to be going to New York, Wisconsin, Chicago, and Hawaii in quick succession, and all of that has gone out the window.''

When, say, a certain New Kid thwarts the crew members' hard work, they activate Plan B, which involves sweet-talking, begging, and flowers. But even the bribes don't always work, judging from first-season episodes in which Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Squeeze failed to stage a reunion show. (Efforts to reassemble the Commodores and Shalamar for this season collapsed when their respective stars, Lionel Richie and Jody Watley, dinged VH1.) Without spoiling any endings, we can say that season 2 includes episodes chronicling ABC, the Motels, English Beat, Haircut 100, and New Kids.

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