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Why the creator of MTV’s ‘The Real World’ is betting on Facebook Watch for the realest season yet

For its 33rd season, the groundbreaking reality show about hot conversations wants to draw you into its messy drama.

Why the creator of MTV’s ‘The Real World’ is betting on Facebook Watch for the realest season yet
The Real World Atlanta cast (left to right)), Clint, Arely, Dondre, Justin, Meagan, Tovah, and Yasmin. [Photos: courtesy of MTV]

After 32 seasons, The Real World‘s creator and executive producer Jonathan Murray is finally making the version of the show he’s always wanted to—on Facebook Watch, no less.

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When ratings took a nose dive during season 28 (The Real World: Portland), MTV began to experiment with different formats of the show that deviated from its original premise of putting seven strangers from different walks of life in a house “to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” Real World: Ex-Plosion, Skeletons, Go Big or Go Home, and Bad Blood instead opted for manufactured drama like having the roommates exes and rivals move in, being forced to face past trauma, and undergoing assigned challenges and missions.

“It did boost ratings a little,” Murray says. “But ultimately you get into that thing of every year, ‘How do we top that?’ which can be a dangerous cycle.”

For season 33, The Real World: Atlanta is going back to its more stripped-down roots but also leaning into the flexibility of digital distribution and using Facebook as a hub for social, political, and cultural conversations.

“It’s what I have always wished we could do with The Real World, to have more opportunity to engage with the people who watch it,” Murray says. “Facebook really offers us a unique opportunity to do the show this way.”

Real World: Atlanta is also the first offering from MTV Studios, MTV’s production division focused primarily on rebooting or creating spin-offs from its library of intellectual property spanning more than 200 titles. But as MTV looks to continue its ascent from the ratings pits, teaming up with a platform like Facebook Watch that’s still trying to find its footing (especially with younger audiences) may be a risky move to keep that momentum.

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The Real World Atlanta: Official Trailer

Stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World: Atlanta premieres June 13th. Check back for new content daily. Episodes drop every Thursday, exclusively on Facebook Watch.

Posted by The Real World on Watch on Thursday, May 30, 2019

When The Real World first aired in 1992, it set the course for reality TV and provided a platform for open discussions around topics including HIV/AIDS, mental health, addiction, racism, and more. With the current climate of the country, Murray felt it was time to refocus on issues that could arise from opposite-thinking roommates rather than engineering conflict from gimmicky stunts.

This season’s cast includes a DACA recipient, a black activist, a queer Muslim woman, a conservative gay black man, a small-town farmer, a deeply religious Southern virgin, and a domestic abuse survivor. It’s a fitting update to the legendary season-one casting of a naive Southern woman, a black poet, a bro-y male model, a gay painter, an indie rocker Generation X dude, a female black rapper, and an actress who starts to date a member of the film crew mid-season.

Knowing that combustible roommates can and will bring up hot-button issues, Facebook became an ideal platform for The Real World, not just in U.S. but in Mexico and Thailand, where the show is expanding this year on Watch as well with local casts hitting on issues relevant to their cultures.

Mina Lefevre, head of development and programming at Facebook Watch, is hoping for the kind of engagement a show like Red Table Talk or Sorry for Your Loss have sparked, where viewers have created their own offshoot communities and support groups.

The cast of The Real World Mexico. [Photo: courtesy of MTV]
“Facebook is a place for conversations that naturally happen anyway. So for us it was thinking about how can we take this iconic show and now reinvent it for what people are thinking about now and the issues that people are dealing with,” Lefevre says. “What we have realized is that people are hungry to have conversation.”

Real World: Atlanta is also making use of not being tied to linear distribution. Leading up to each episode on Thursdays will be “story drops,” six-to-eight minute scenes from that week’s episode prompted with a question meant to get the conversation going. There will also be additional social content woven in that the roommates made during their time in the house (they were allowed to have phones) that will give additional context and/or more fuel to whatever debate is raging that week.

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“With the immediacy of what people are used to nowadays, you can have scenes coming at you in a regular rhythm. So the experience is much more immersive,” Lefevre says. “You’re going to start the conversation in a much deeper way.”

The Real World Atlanta house. [Photo: courtesy of MTV]
Real World: Atlanta is something of a soft launch for MTV Studios. It’s not a reboot, per se, but it is leveraging Facebook Watch’s built-in social components in a way that couldn’t be replicated at, say, Netflix or Hulu. In some ways, MTV Studios reviving Punk’d and Singled Out on Jeffrey Katzenberg’s upcoming platform Quibi is a riskier bet. That said, Facebook Watch hasn’t quite bolted out the gate as many people thought it would. Its viewership numbers are indeed increasing, but it’s hard to tell if this partnership will be a symbiotic relationship or a stalemate of waning interest from younger audiences on both sides.

Facebook has signaled a pivot toward older audiences with Watch as teens move away from the platform altogether. The shows MTV Studios are resurrecting may well perform mainly as nostalgia for millennials, which could be a sweet spot on Watch. However, so is Netflix. Because 50% of adults have never even heard of Watch, gaining any traction for a reboot, or any original programming, on the platform seems like a steep climb.

But it’s a climb MTV remains bullish in tackling.

“We are not defined by any one platform,” says Nina Diaz, president of development and programming at MTV. “We’re fortunate enough to have 98% brand awareness, so that puts us in a league of our own. We’ve had success in meeting our audiences everywhere they are.”

MTV Studios certainly isn’t beholden to Facebook Watch. The goal is to match its legacy shows with ideal platforms. In the case of The Real World recalibrating around social and cultural issues, Watch, even in its nascent state, seemed like the best option to push the franchise in a more meaningful direction.

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“There are conversations happening on Facebook, but I don’t think they’re happening in the way they’ll be happening on Real World,” Murray says. “[Conversations on Facebook are] happening between people who aren’t in the same room. There’s a lot of, ‘This is what I think,’ but I’m not sure how much listening there is. In The Real World environment, you’re forced to listen. So I think we will be providing something that will even feel unique on Facebook.”

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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