MTV has tapped eight underclassmen from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for an experiment in reality TV. Rather than trailing the kids with a camera crew, the network gave them their own cameras. They spent several months documenting their lives, and MTV has assembled the footage in a show called College Life. It premieres at 9:30 p.m. on Monday, April 13.
"Technology has democratized the filmmaking process for our viewers," says Tony DiSanto, head of MTV programming. "That fact combined with this generation's real-time publishing online of every aspect of their lives brings us into a new era of honesty and openness, and College Life exemplifies this."
MTV pioneered reality TV with The Real World, in which good-looking strangers live together for several months. But that series' "realness" has always been open to question, given the concept's artifice.
"College Life is a very different reality show," says cast member Alex Viser. "There has been a history of reality shows not really having any authenticity to them. That's what drew me to this project -- the capability for us to have the camera and point it where we want to and not have a crew following us."
Viser is a 19-year-old Texan who came to the UW last fall to pursue journalism and international studies. MTV contacted her through Facebook and arranged an audition on campus. She answered personal questions from a bunch of friendly folks and made the first cut with about a dozen others. MTV gave the finalists cameras to play around with, looked at the footage they produced, and selected the cast. Along with Alex, there's Kevin, who has an eye for the ladies; Andrea, who loves to sing and dance; and Jordan, a self-described music nerd. Other cast members include Anna, Lindsay, Josh, and Dan.
The kids started documenting their lives in September and turned over their tapes to the producers as they finished them. "MTV said to just film everything about your life, be super honest and open, and create your own story -- why you're here and who you are," Viser says.
She won't give many details about the finished product: "You're just going to have to watch the show to see!" She does reveal that her footage centers on her studies, her volunteer work and her effort to meet friends.
Though Viser's job was to film on her own, she ran into her fellow cast mates around campus. "They're turning out to be great friends," she says.
Viser has seen a rough cut of College Life but not the final product. She doesn't know what footage MTV will end up using. "I'm really excited to see it on TV," she says. She plans to watch the premiere episode "with some popcorn and some friends," anywhere on campus she can find a TV.
How will Viser handle the fame that comes with TV exposure? "I'm a pretty reserved person, but I don't think I'm going to mind it too much," she says. "I did this project not for the fame, but because it was a great experience."
You can get a taste of the series in its trailer.
Want to be famous yourself? mtvU, MTV's college network, will launch a College Life contest in mid-April in which students can submit footage of their own college lives. Finalists will be showcased on mtvU's Best Film on Campus. MTV is also promoting the program on its Remote Control Blog, and a spirited discussion can be found on its Facebook page.