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‘Naked’ ambition can help you make it in reality TV

In this phoprovided by Discovery Channel Jaclyn left Adam emandarins while sitting down scene from TV series 'Naked Afraid.' Nudity

In this photo provided by the Discovery Channel, Jaclyn, left, and Adam eat mandarins while sitting down in a scene from the TV series, "Naked and Afraid." Nudity is reality TV's latest hot trend. (AP Photo/Discovery Channel, Chris Horangic)

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Updated: August 30, 2014 6:14AM



A male contestant on a new VH1 dating show didn’t beckon a woman to walk in front of him out of politeness. He wanted to check her out from behind, and didn’t need to use his imagination.

The “Dating Naked” series is the latest example of reality television’s newest trend. Nudity is hot, no longer confined to late-night premium cable.

Leading the way is Discovery’s “Naked and Afraid,” where a man and woman who don’t know each other fend for themselves in the wilderness for three weeks without a stitch between them. That program’s success since its June 2013 premiere begat VH1’s “Dating Naked” and TLC’s real estate show, “Buying Naked,” with more in the planning stages.

In a world of endless choices, the word “naked” jumps off the program guide. Brent Montgomery, who produces the nonfiction hit “Pawn Stars” that airs on the History channel, said many early fans were drawn in by that title even though the show had nothing to do with the image left in your head.

To truly succeed, however, a show needs more going for it to keep viewers once the novelty of watching naked bodies with blurred body parts wears off.

“The secret sauce of our show is not the fact that they’re naked,” said Denise Contis, West Coast head of production and development at Discovery. “I think it’s the storytelling, the cast and a survival experience that’s authentic.”

Memorable characters make successful shows, “and it takes a big character to take off their clothes in front of a reality TV camera,” Montgomery said.

Standards are the same at each show: Male and female genitalia are blurred out, along with female breasts. Backsides are fair game. A graphic artist takes about a week to cleanse each episode of “Naked and Afraid.”

Discovery wasn’t searching for a “naked” show when developing “Naked and Afraid,” Contis said. It wanted a new twist in the survival genre and, ultimately, the most elemental shelter is clothing.

Yet, let’s face it: One hook is the question of whether a romance develops between two naked strangers left alone in the woods (except for the producers and camera crew, of course). It hasn’t happened yet.

Romance is the point of “Dating Naked.” Susan Levison, head of programming at VH1, gave the series a green light her first day on the job last September, and hurried to beat competitors to the air.

“The idea of using nudity as a metaphor for allowing yourself to be truly exposed and truly yourself in the search for love felt really fresh and exciting,” Levison said.

The “Dating Naked” debut earlier this month featured a woman in her 30s stung when her chosen man was distracted by a younger, gorgeous temptress — an intriguing story for VH1’s female-dominated audience. The older woman’s name, Wee Wee, trended on Twitter and the episode’s audience of 826,000 easily beat the network’s average of 335,000 viewers in the time slot. With more than 4 million viewers, “Naked and Afraid” was Discovery’s most-watched series premiere ever.

That explains why plenty of other “naked” pitches are being heard in network boardrooms.

“You’ll probably see four or five work and a dozen that don’t work,” Montgomery said.



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