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When Reality TV Hits Home June 10, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Written while slightly bitter that I don't get to ride on the neighbor's made-for-TV zip line.
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We no longer live in a normal world. Not all of us, though some would disagree. I just mean my neighbors and me. We now live in the land of make-believe, since the arrival of a new CBS reality TV series being filmed right on our very street. It will be difficult to describe how very odd this all is, but I’ll do my best!

Pictures. That would help. Video would be even better. Alas, we were taking pictures last night while driving through the land of make-believe when we were chased down by a police officer calling, “No pictures! No pictures!” and then demanding we delete them all. Turns out the Atlanta Journal-Constitution avoided said officer and shot some good photos, so let’s start with these.

Maggie Roe/AJC

Maggie Roe/AJC

Yes, those are massive walls on our street. They are about 30 feet tall, constructed of scaffolding and covered with vinyl that looks just like poured concrete. Yesterday they poured a little real concrete along the bottoms of each panel to complete the illusion. The walls are what really shocked us when we arrived home from vacation. But let’s back up a little.

It all started when we heard a call for families to audition for a new reality show tentatively called “Block Party”. Sounded like fun, but you had to commit to being available the entire month of June, and so we let the audition pass and forgot about the show. Later, the underground pipe-finder people swept in and painted all sorts of multicolored lines and codes on our streets and yards. We wondered with trepidation what sort of massive sewer-related project was on the way. Then a group of people with notebooks met daily on our sidewalks and street corners. We wondered what sort of massive evangelism-related project was on the way. Finally, while we were at the beach, we heard the news. The reality show construction was in full swing, and we wouldn’t believe our own neighborhood when we got home. The news was entirely correct.

Six houses are completely encircled in walls. We can only see their uppermost windows. The walls sit right where the curb meets the street. The occupants have moved out during construction, and when I peeked in the house two doors down I saw all the furniture wrapped in plastic and the floors covered with cardboard. The back yards are encased as well, with section of fences removed to make way for the massive faux-concrete wall. It’s stunning.

Maggie Roe, AJC

Maggie Roe, AJC

There is 24-hour security provided by our local police department. In the beginning they were very diligent about directing traffic along a narrowed street crowded with construction workers in hard hats and production people with clipboards and phones. Now, they mostly sit in their air-conditioned police cars, emerging only to run down nefarious picture-takers. The construction workers are all very polite, trying to minimize the nuisance, keeping quiet, avoiding eye contact. I’m sure they’re all bound to secrecy as well. The street was only closed once, to construct trusses that actually span the road. I did notice today that a curtain of faux-concrete has been attached to those trusses, so I suspect more neighborhood closures in our future.

The speed of the project is extraordinary. The walls are just about finished, including a few houses on the other side of the street, one of which is walled in all by itself. How lonely. The crew has moved on to electrical, with a labyrinth of heavy-gauge wire stretching from transformers that get their own black walls. I’m as impressed by the crew’s ability to make all these wires disappear as anything; it even looks like some of the cables pass under the street. I think visible power cords are a no-no on TV.

Maggie Roe / AJC

Maggie Roe / AJC

Filming starts in five days, and we still don’t really know what the show is about. I got a clue yesterday when I saw the handle of a zip-line, and then saw that the line itself stretched from the roof (yes, roof, bolted right on top of the house) down somewhere within the walls a few houses over. Some adventure may be afoot. We haven’t bothered asking our currently-dislocated neighbors what’s going to happen, since we know they can’t say anything. Everyone sure is curious, though. In fact, our driveway has become the turn-around spot for the gawking onlookers driving through this land of make-believe.

We’re told shooting will last until the end of the month, then they’ll tear it all down. That part is tough for me to take. I’m both frugal and a pack-rat, and CBS is going through obviously exorbitant expense for a completely temporary two-week filming and then they’ll just strip it all away.

I’m tempted to add something about how it’s a shame that all this effort and expense and really impressive work could have been used for something with lasting benefit, but then I’d be a bit of a hypocrite the next time I enjoy a TV show or a movie. Such irony will always exist. So, I’m putting those thoughts aside and enjoying the spectacle.

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Comments»

1. John Poltrack - June 16, 2009

What happens if there is a fire or medical emergency? I suppose the release form that the contestants sign absolves CBS of any liability.


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