UPN making Amish reality show
Monday, January 19, 2004
LOS ANGELES -- The UPN television network is preparing a reality series that follows Amish teenagers having their first experiences with modern conveniences and outside society, part of a religious rite of passage that tests their faith.
Network executives are informally calling it "Amish in the City," although they said Sunday the title will likely change.
"To have people who don't have television walk down Rodeo Drive and be freaked out by what they see, I think will be interesting television," said CBS chairman Leslie Moonves, who also oversees UPN. "It will not be denigrating to the Amish."
Members of the Amish religious sect dress simply and shun most technology. Rural Pennsylvania and Ohio are home to large Amish communities, where their horse-drawn black buggies appear on country roads.
At age 16, Amish youngsters are allowed to break free of the religion's strict code of conduct to decide whether they want to be baptized as adults. During the period of "rumspringa," a Pennsylvania Dutch term that means "running around," they often date, drink, drive cars and move away from their homes.
The majority return to the faith.
For UPN, the series is vaguely reminiscent of corporate cousin CBS' ill-fated attempt to make a real-life version of "The Beverly Hillbillies." Both networks are owned by Viacom.
CBS hunted for an Appalachian family that it would pay $500,000 to live a year in a Hollywood mansion. However, many politicians and others in the mountain region and the South attacked the idea as a mockery of rural Americans, and the project likely will never be made.
Moonves acknowledged that he thought of that debacle before giving the green light to the Amish series.
The show will be about culture shock, not religion, and he said it would be like a reverse version of Fox's "The Simple Life," where socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie lived for a time on an Arkansas farm.
"Where were all the people writing about 'The Simple Life'?" Moonves said. "Did it make fun of the family they were living with? Did it make fun of the two girls? It was fun."
The Amish series is tentatively scheduled for this summer.