From Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson on MTV's Newlyweds to the anything-but-traditional duo of rock guitarist Dave Navarro and glamour goddess Carmen Electra on Til Death Do Us Part, more and more couples are seeking out reality-show stardom by welcoming the cameras into their homes.
Watch 20/20's full report tonight at 10 p.m.
Til Death Do Us Part is getting viewers ready for a classic reality-show conclusion — Navarro and Electra's wedding — by showing the customary preparations and the out-of-the-ordinary passions of this charismatic star from the group Jane's Addiction and his not-so-blushing bride, best known for her swimsuited stint on Baywatch.
Electra admits she had reservations about doing the series. "I've always had this problem of worrying what people think. … And everyone we talked to said, 'no, don't do it. Please don't do it. What if, you know, what if you guys get divorced?' "
And from the banal to the bizarre, the lives these couples are leading, in front of our eyes, is reinventing modern romance. Welcome to the reality relationship: a uniquely 21st-century style of love where everything's public, nothing seems private, and the happy couple wants you to watch.
"I think it's just a question of voyeurism meets exhibitionism. We're happy and fascinated to watch. … And there are gonna be people who are fascinated to let us in," said Terry Real, a relationship therapist.
Not Just for the Hollywood Set
And the reality-relationship is not just for celebrities. Chris, a 25-year-old freelance illustrator, decided to surprise his longtime live-in girlfriend, Ashley, with a marriage proposal.
The only people who knew of Chris' plan to propose were a few of Ashley's friends — and about 2,000 total strangers. The couple had cultivated an audience through their own Web site — cutecouple.com — where they shared every moment of their relationship in words and pictures for their Internet fans.
Ashley said she was pretty impressed that their Web fans kept quiet about Chris's pending marriage proposal.
Clearly, we like seeing these reality relationships in action. But why do couples let us watch?
Electra sees it as a way to gain back a little control from the paparazzi. "Your private lives get reported on anyway, you know? … So why not just invite everyone in?"
But as her fiancé Navarro points out, what may look like reality isn't always the whole truth. "The thing about reality TV that I've experienced is that in some ways it's not actual reality TV. … It's what it's like when there's cameras following you around TV. You know, because regardless of how comfortable you get, you're aware that they're there."
Real calls it "almost real TV." He says "it's not that different than a '50s sitcom a generation ago."
Chris and Ashley may have the ultimate reality relationship — uncensored and 24/7. Their cutecouple.com Web site has documented their every activity: showering, getting dressed, hanging out … and yes, making love.
For $9.95 a month you can see it all — and the pictures are supplemented by separate diaries so candid that Chris and Ashley have vowed never to read each other's entries. Throughout cutecouple.com's history, more than 20,000 people — enough to cover the pair's rent and the cost of the site — have signed up to watch.
"They know everything," Ashley said, "Maybe you don't see me in person but, you know what I put on for work this morning."
Do the Cameras Spice Things Up?
Does the thought of people watching everything they do make their lives more exciting?
"Maybe not so much exciting," Chris said, "but it's comforting to come home and know that one person out there, just one, could be watching me right now. And it's kind of weird and creepy but it feels like having a dog at home, and when you get home, that dog cares about you or that cat cares about you."
Kaya, a camera-loving hunk who appeared on Fox's Temptation Island, said his stint in reality-TV was "a hyper-state of living when all those cameras are on you."
And although Kaya's relationship with his girlfriend Valerie was really put on the griddle, he and Valerie say that putting their relationship on television didn't hurt it. They say that, in fact, it made their relationship stronger.
"I think it's really helped the relationship evolve, when we went through all that pressure together and we share that bond together," Kaya said.
Navarro says the show has given him and Electra a permanent record of one of their most intimate moments. He says he thrilled that the moment he and Electra exchange vows is captured on film. "That's cool to me, because it's a positive thing," he said.
But for Chris and Ashley, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the altar. Eight months ago, they called off their engagement. Ashley moved out and the Internet's favorite cute couple broke up.
While the couple doesn't blame their Web site as the downfall, therapist Real says such a reality relationship brings up some serious questions. "You have to wonder is the primary commitment to each other or is the primary commitment to you and your audience. … It's hard to imagine that over time, it is a healthy thing for a relationship."
And in her new place, away from her former fiancé, Ashley has a bed, a desk … and yes, a Webcam.