It may be up for debate whether Washington, D.C., is Hollywood for ugly people, as the old joke goes, but there’s little doubt that the television industry likes what it sees in the nation’s capital. Whether for appearances or patriotism, a throng of new television shows, particularly reality programs, have chosen the venerable city of marble and monuments as their location.
MTV, a pioneer in the reality genre, opted to finally take its long-running series “The Real World” to the nation’s capital for its 23rd season. The D.C. version of the globe-trotting show, which has filmed in New York, Paris and Cancun, Mexico, is set to air in late December. The outcome of last year’s presidential election helped sway the network to film in the nation’s capital.
“We’ve always wanted to come to here,” the show’s executive producer, Jim Johnston, said during filming over the summer. “It’s been scouted off and on for the last 10 years. Plus, you want to be here because, let’s face it, it’s the election . . . you can feel the energy on the streets. Everyone is just so proud to be here right now and the potential for change and being a part of it, you just feel it.”
The show filmed in a lavish four-story brownstone in Dupont Circle, in the northwestern part of town. The neighborhood, known for its historic buildings, dining establishments and embassies, is close to the White House, so viewers can expect sightings of congressmen and even the president, Johnston said.
Meanwhile, Bravo has plans to add the influential metropolitan area to its “Real Housewives” franchise, which has been based in Orange County, Atlanta, New Jersey and New York.
The network hasn’t announced its cast yet and it’s still unclear the level of political involvement the “Housewives” will have. But at least two with Beltway ties are reportedly out of the running -- Republican fundraiser Lisa Spies (wife of political lawyer Charlie Spies) and healthcare lobbyist Edwina Rogers. An air date for the series has not been set.
On the CW, the D.C. social circuit -- jampacked with charity galas and society parties -- gets put under the reality lens in “Blonde Charity Mafia,” which chronicles the lives of three D.C. junior socialites.
“There are more reality shows being filmed here,” said Josh Friedman, communications director of the city’s Office of Motion Picture & Television Development. “It’s just an exciting, interesting time to be in D.C. There’s a lot of great energy and enthusiasm. Whether that can be attributed to the administration or something else, is debatable.”
In the scripted arena, HBO’s comedy pilot “Washingtonienne,” centers on the exploits of a young woman who moves to the city to become a speechwriter but first must pay her dues as a low-level congressional staffer. The show is based on the semi-autobiographical book by Jessica Cutler, a former congressional staff assistant who was fired for blogging about her sex life.
Comedy and politics are still mixing in D.C. as well.
Wanda Sykes taped her comedy special “I’ma Be Me” during the summer at the Warner Theatre, and the program aired last month on HBO. And in December, the premium cable network will also show “Robin Williams: Weapons of Self-Destruction,” which films at DAR Constitution Hall this month.
It’s hardly the first time the Beltway has served as host to comedians. In 2004, Chris Rock’s fourth HBO special, “Chris Rock: Never Scared,” was filmed in Washington, D.C. And in 2006, comedian-author-playwright Lewis Black, a D.C. native, filmed “Lewis Black: Red, White & Screwed” at the Warner Theatre.
“Obviously, with Obama in the office, there’s a lot of buzz around the city,” said Nancy Geller, senior VP of programming who oversees the network’s stand-up specials, music specials and late-night programming. “But it’d be that way whether it’s this administration or another one. Comedy just loves politics.”