'Reality Hell': A Reality TV Hater's Dream Come True?

E!'s "Reality Hell" turns the tables on those seeking fame through reality TV.

ByABC News
August 13, 2009, 4:45 PM

Aug. 14, 2009— -- Whether it's toddlers fighting for a pageant crown or people going on dates in pitch-black rooms, reality television is constantly pushing the envelope to see what it can come up with next.

So what do you get when you create a show that openly mocks reality shows? E!'s latest series, which premieres Sunday. "Reality Hell" lures unsuspecting participants onto fake reality shows in order to mess with their heads.

"It started out as just trying, in some way, to deconstruct the reality genre, because reality has almost become a parody of itself," show creator-executive producer Peter Cohen said. "So, I thought, let's take it to one more level."

In each episode, "Reality Hell" recreates a different kind of reality show where every participant is a professional actor, except for one labeled the "target." This individual thinks that he or she is going to star in a reality show, but soon experiences a different reality, so to speak.

"Most reality shows are very much produced with real-show elements," Cohen said. "Producers get what they need by prompting the contestants. But we're very scared of giving anything away. It's like a house of cards, and if something goes wrong, it all falls apart. It's actually more difficult for us in some sense because we have the added responsibility of making each show look real for just one person."

The series has parodied everything from wife swap shows to a show called "Widow," where a group of young men vie for the attention of a "cougar," the term du jour for an older woman interested in younger men. The target of the group is thrown off guard when the show's cougar turns out to be a 72-year-old woman.

One of the show's contestants, Celia Hudson, participated in the wife swap episode that will premiere Aug. 23. She unknowingly was sent to a glitzy house in Beverly Hills to spend the day with big-shot Hollywood producer Kent Fontaine, who keeps his adopted son as a slave and is constantly critiquing his daughter's body.