NEW YORK – It's "The Real World" meets "Dr. Phil" (search) meets "As the World Turns."
Just when you thought the reality show genre had exhausted every conceivable twist and turn, along comes "Starting Over," (search) the first reality daytime drama that combines elements from self-help talk shows, soap operas and reality TV.
The syndicated hour-long program - which premieres Sept. 8 on NBC - features six women from five states, ages 20 to 62, at volatile crossroads in their lives. Andy doesn't trust women; Cassandra's a recovering party animal; Nyanza's a material girl; Lori and Maureen have lost loved ones; Christine's grossly overweight.
The women shack up together for several weeks in a Chicago house where life coaches Rana Walker and Rhonda Britten dispense frank advice to get the women back on track. As they accomplish their goals - or get the boot for slacking off - they are replaced by newcomers with new issues. Some graduates get financial assistance.
But it's hardly touchy-feely. Even executive producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray - who gave us MTV's "The Real World" and "Road Rules" - were taken aback by the fireworks.
"We were surprised at how comfortable the women were to be so volatile so quickly," says Bunim.
"Andy was there to overcome her distrust of women. What better way than to live in a house full of women? So the first thing they do is go shopping for food. Andy walked up to the driver, Nyanza, and said, 'I have a bad feeling about this and I'm not going.' Nyanza was completely offended and it created a tremendous rift for the week. I'm not surprised that it happened, but this was the first day!"
The show began shooting in July, after an exhaustive four-month nationwide search that whittled 100,000 hits on the shows Web site at www.startingovertv.com to 2,000 candidates to the final six through multiple interviews, background checks and psychological testing.
"This is daytime drama at it's best," says Bunim. "Alliances change immediately. We've had eruptions where people just stormed out of the house."