Why Do They Do It? The Truth Behind 'Celebreality'

We got a dressing-down by Robin Leach.

The legendary host of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" didn't seem happy with us at all. Why? Because we asked a few too many questions about "celebreality," a booming genre of TV shows that combines the reality show and celebrities. I wanted to know why a celebrity would agree to appear on one of these shows. I just happened to ask the wrong guy.

Back to Leach in a moment.

Celebreality is white-hot. We have "Dancing With the Stars," "Skating With the Stars" and "Celebrity Fear Factor," which is essentially being grossed out with the stars.

One of the most successful franchises is "The Surreal Life," now airing in various forms on VH1. The show puts a group of diverse celebrities in a house and makes them live together. That original show has been a reality-show breeding factory, spawning the spinoffs "The Surreal Life: Fame Games," "My Fair Brady," "Flavor of Love," "Strange Love" and "Charm School," with even more in the works.

The creators of the show are Mark Cronin and Cris Abrego, who together have produced more than 150 episodes of television in just three years.

"It's a heightened version of the world that we are all living in," said Cronin. "Celebrities, in their real life -- you get a lot more.

Abrego concurred. "You get somebody who's not afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeve."

'Aging, Egomaniacal Stars That Were'?

The roster of cast members does not exactly read like an Oscars special: Flavor Flav, Erik Estrada, Charo, Emmanuel Lewis, Vanilla Ice, Verne Troyer. The type of celebrity that some refer to as a B-lister or worse. It is a label Cronin and Abrego don't like.

"The difference between the A-list and the B-list," said Cronin, "is simply that the B-list was available to, uh, do a reality television show for two weeks in a house."

The Los Angeles Times said Cronin and Abrego had found the perfect formula for celebreality: "Recruit a bunch of aging, egomaniacal stars-that-were, inject a situation fraught with competition, conflict, or humiliation, roll camera and let the fireworks begin."

Fireworks, like when Troyer -- whom you might know as Mini-Me from the "Austin Powers" films -- urinated on the floor. Fireworks like when Rob Van Winkle, better known as Vanilla Ice, flipped out after being double-crossed by porn star Ron Jeremy on "The Surreal Life: Fame Games."

'Really Great Television'

The question is, why would Vanilla Ice, why would Troyer, why would any of the stars, past, present or otherwise, put themselves in this position?

"In my humble opinion it's now more important to be on celebreality shows than it is to be on regular television shows."

Those are Leach's words, and he knows as much about celebrity as anyone in the universe. In the 1980s and '90s, he was the host of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" -- himself becoming rich and famous. Now he is a big booster of celebreality. You can see him as the host of "The Surreal Life: Fame Games" where Vanilla Ice is flipping out.

"It was after the fact that we said, 'Hey, that was really great television,'" said Leach. "You will never find better."

But when we pushed Leach on the cosmic question of why a Vanilla Ice or a Troyer would do one of these shows, he became unhappy.

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