Judging from the spate of local reality shows, Chicago has a new star: itself. “Chicago is a great mix of very old-fashioned and very modern,” says Yuri Rutman, an independent producer recently in town casting for two series: Warsaw, Chicago (a Kardashians–meets–Jersey Shore hybrid about local Polish Americans) and Floored (about futures traders). After tuning in to shows such as House of Consignment, Giuliana & Bill, and even the cringeworthy Wiener’s Circle (find details in “Reality Check,” below), it’s easy to determine what creates a following: hilariously candid confessionals, backstabbing, and a look at communities so foreign it’s hard to believe you share a backyard. But how real is real? For answers, we turned to the stars of two fresh offerings.
MOB WIVES CHICAGO
Sundays at 7 p.m. on VH1; starts June 10
THE PREMISE: Despite its name, this Chicago spinoff of the VH1 hit doesn’t feature a single cast member who’s married to the Mob. “We’re married to the lifestyle,” says Christina Scoleri, whose father, Raymond Janek, was an alleged fence for the Mob until he went straight 25 years ago. So will watching the show give you a peek into the inner workings of the Outfit? Hardly. “There’s nothing going on in Chicago anyway,” says Scoleri, who grew up on Taylor Street and now lives in Downers Grove.
THE REAL DEAL: Shooting for the series began last December and will likely continue through the summer. Scoleri is happy to keep going—as long as the producers respect one thing: “I’m protective about my nine-year-old daughter,” she says. “And some personal stuff about my recent divorce. I’m on a reality show—but I don’t like to display my business.” Much of the action is during meals, Scoleri says, where the ladies rehash the events of previous episodes. “The producers remind us of the story lines to discuss since there’s so much to remember. But [they] never tell us what to say.” Except when a scene needs to be reshot. Some local restaurants (Gilt Bar, Luxbar, Gene & Georgetti’s) have allegedly rejected requests to film inside. Scoleri admits that the wives, who are something of a posse on the show, weren’t close initially. “Not like now,” she explains. “You learn a lot about a person if you film with them.”
Mondays at 8 p.m. on the Style Network; starts June 11
THE PREMISE: AJ Johnson, owner of AJ’s of Chicago (previously known as Ajes Salon) at 648 West Randolph Street, stars in the Style Network’s Jerseylicious clone. The ten-episode series documents the inner workings of the high-end salon—which reportedly caters to clients like Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, and Iman—all while its camera-loving owner tries to take his brand national. “The cameras follow me at home, they follow me when I go out socializing, they follow me at events,” says Johnson, who splits his time between Oak Park and River North and claims that one of his main missions in life is having a reality show.
THE REAL DEAL: On some shows producers select the cast, but the featured players on Chicagolicious were Johnson’s employees long before the cameras showed up. He says he shoots for an average of eight to twelve hours a day, usually five days a week. Most scenes take place at the salon and during meetings or outings at local restaurants like Japonais, Sepia, Mastro’s, and Vivo. With all that footage, there’s bound to be plenty left on the cutting room floor, but Johnson is hoping not. “I want everything that was shot to be seen,” says the stylist, who insists that nothing on camera is different from real life. “I didn’t try to soften it up for TV. This is me. If you don’t like it, you can change the channel.”
MORE CHICAGO REALITY TV SHOWS
IN RERUNS: Giuliana & Bill (returns in fall to Style).
AWAITING SEASON 2 PICKUP: House of Consignment (VH1) and The Wiener’s Circle (TruTV).
CASTING: Warsaw, Chicago and Floored.