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'The Real World' watches seven people try to live together


Now, the first thing to know about "The Real World" is that it isn't the real world. Nowhere in the real world are seven young people set up in a nicely furnished SoHo loft apartment expressly for the purpose of being on television.

But this is the MTV world. And the cable music network tonight tweaks another TV convention in undeniably fascinating style.

Billed as a "young adult soap opera," the half-hour "The Real World" series debuts at 10 p.m. with two episodes.

The twist of the show is that the seven people we see moving into the Manhattan apartment -- four guys and three women, aged 19 to 25 -- are not actors. Instead, MTV chose them from about 500 applicants to live three months of their lives in front of video cameras.

Julie, Becky, Norman, Kevin, Heather, Eric and Andre -- we don't get last names -- never met before, and tonight's installments capture that awkward getting-to-know-you period.

They are an aspiring dancer, a male model, a rap singer, a designer, a free-lance writer and poet, a musician and a singer supporting herself as an actress. They're racially mixed from urban and suburban backgrounds, and it will take viewers some time to figure out who is who.

Oh, and there's a big dog, too, Norman's Great Dane, Gouda.

"This is totally insane," says one of the residents early on, and another voice says, "They can't do this to seven people."

For some viewers, it seems likely "The Real World" may become addicting.

Yet by any normal TV standard it should be boring. Much of the time, nothing much really happens on screen, despite the heavy, quick-cut editing and thick rock music background aimed at adding drama. (As the move-in scene occurs, the background features Guns 'N Roses growling out their song, "Welcome to the Jungle.")

A lot of action happens in TV soap operas with scripts and actors. But here the conversations drag and we see a lot of mundane activities -- especially cooking, mostly spaghetti.

Viewers may wonder how these people can possibly be real in front of a camera crew, yet film documentarians know that after some initial awkwardness, the presence of cameras fades into the background.

And we get that feeling here. The people gradually just seem genuine, such as Julie's father seen at a going away party, when she uses some slang and he says "When did you start saying 'butt'?"

It's also cute when rap singer Heather has to write out a vocabulary of her street slang so that Southern-reared Julie knows what she's talking about.

Interestingly, MTV blips out profanity, although usually the missing language is perfectly obvious.

"The Real World" creator, Bunim-Murray Productions, includes Mary Ellis Bunim, whose background is in such real soaps as "Santa Barbara and "As the World Turns," and Jon Murray, a news and documentary producer.

MTV has bought 13 episodes of the show, which will air weekly at 10 p.m. Thursdays.

On The Weekend Watch:

WHERE IN THE WORLD. . . -- The final round of today's "1992 National Geography Bee" from the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington is on Maryland Public Television at 8 tonight. MPT produced live coverage of the event, with host Alex Trebek, for PBS stations today.

THE SEASON'S OVER -- Last year's final episode of "L.A. Law" had the whole firm breaking apart. Tonight (at 10, Channel 2), former partner Jimmy Smits makes an appearance as the season closes with an episode in which the fear of AIDS creeps close to Arnie (Corbin Bernsen) and Roxanne (Susan Ruttan). It seems a stricken former lover needs assistance drawing a will.

OH NO, IT'S NOT -- Boy, that "MacGyver" is something. A few weeks ago ABC promoted the final episode of the long-running series about the inventive adventurer (Richard Dean Anderson). Yet tonight (9 o'clock, Channel 13) the guy pops up in a first-run episode! Must have hidden it in a secret pocket.

THERE'S JOHNNY! -- A nightlight that has been shining warmly longer than many regular viewers have been alive goes out Friday as Johnny Carson does his final edition of NBC's "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., Channel 2). And Johnny, 30-year sidekick Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen will preside over the final show with no other guests scheduled. In one of the more unusual observances of the occasion, cable's Comedy Central network will also go "dark" completely during the "Tonight" goodbye.

THE MOVIE MARQUEE -- Two of Ted Turner's cable channels on Saturday serve up a pair of goodies, both at 8 p.m. On TNT comes "Treasure Island," a swashbuckling good 1990 production of the Robert Louis Stevenson pirate yarn. Charlton Heston makes a splendid Long John Silver. And on TBS, one of TV's sublime comedy duos makes an early mark in 1958's "No Time for Sergeants." In the droll story of a rural draftee in the Army, Andy Griffith is Private Will Stockdale and Don Knotts is a high-strung psychiatrist. Two years later, they'd be together again on "The Andy Griffith Show."

SALUTING THE COLORS -- On Sunday on MPT, the annual "National Memorial Day Concert" from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol (at 7:30 p.m.) features Ossie Davis (from CBS' "Evening Shade") as a late replacement host (for the previously scheduled E.G. Marshall). Guests include Perry Como, Charles Kuralt, Jeffrey Osborne, Richard Thomas, Mel Torme, Leslie Uggams and Roger Williams, with Erich Kunzel leading the National Symphony Orchestra.

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