Lifetime’s new series Unreal, a behind-the-scenes look at a fictitious competition dating reality series that’s heavy on pillar candles, roses, and hot young women canoodling with the same lucky guy, is based on Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s award-winning independent short film, Sequin Raze.
And yet, when a TV critic attending Winter TV Press Tour 2015 suggested the show-within-a-show is actually ABC’s The Bachelor, Shapiro, who’s also co-creator and supervising producer on Unreal, and Marti Noxon, who’s co-creator and EP, took exception. Noxon began tossing off names of other reality series — The Swan, Joe Millionaire — and said the rose-and-candles thing has “become the language of” the reality competition dating show. And Shapiro, who worked on The Bachelor, insisted she’s “a writer, first and foremost” and has been working at that longer than she worked in reality TV. “It was a day job I had at 23,” she said, so when she and Noxon sat down to make the series, ” I knew how to put up the wallpaper, but it’s totally fictional.”
The series follows Rachel (Shiri Appleby), a young staff member on a popular competition reality dating show, whose job it is to manipulate contestants in order to get the needed craptastic footage viewers love and show executive producer, Julia (Constance Zimmer) demands.
And, should Unreal survive to a second season, the show-within-a-show might have a completely different format, Noxon and Shapiro claimed. “It’s a show that’s like a starfish — we can cut off an arm and it grows back,” Shapiro said.
“Somebody you don’t like” on the show, “you can vote off,” joked Zimmer.