MTV show relives the disco decade

7/2/2005
BY ROB OWEN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

MTV and PBS make strange bedfellows, but darn if the youth-culture-obsessed cable network isn't aping old-fogie-skewing public broadcasting with its newest reality series, The '70s House.

While PBS sends participants back in time to live like pioneers in Colonial House or Frontier House for both educational and cultural enlightenment, MTV is sending a bunch of twentysomethings who weren't around in the 1970s back to the disco decade pretty much just for laughs.

Unlike so many commercial-network reality shows today, The '70s House, which has its premiere at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, is not mean-spirited. The most humiliating it gets is forcing its cast to wear bell bottoms.

The 12 participants have no idea what to expect when they enter a Brady Bunch -era home and get stripped of their modern phones and electronics (cell phones, iPods, etc.). Comics Bil Dwyer and Natasha Leggero (Rita the drunk on Joe Schmo 2) host the diverse cast.

Cast members learn to do the Hustle and get educated on dropping modern slang in favor of "groovy" and "far out." If they slip, it could be grounds for elimination.

Each week, two players who are least able to pass for '70s-era kids get called out for a showdown by Oscar, a disembodied voice who rings in by phone (a la Charlie's Angels). The first week's elimination challenges find contestants facing off over the game Operation. In episode two, Jimmy Walker (Good Times) pitches in for a game-show challenge.

Participant Joey Mendicino, an aspiring actor, said the most difficult part of the experience was curbing his modern vocabulary.

"I had no idea how often the word 'awesome' is used," he said. "People were slipping right and left. Anyone could get called out instantly for using 'awesome' and some people did."

He also grew to despise TV dinners, and he longed for his Sonicare toothbrush.

"It drove me crazy not having that," he said, swearing he's not a pitchman for Philips Electronics. "Nothing gives you the dentist-clean feeling like the Sonicare does. I love that thing."

But he didn't like wearing polyester shirts, which gave him a rash on his neck.

His manager sent Mendicino on an audition for what turned out to be The '70s House. Initially he was lukewarm on the idea of appearing on a reality show.

"I would never have done reality. I was just very skeptical of it at first, but I talked with the people at MTV and this one was supposed to be different and unlike anything out there so far," he said. "I'm such an adventurer and I get into everything, so I was like, 'Let me give it a try.'‚óŹ"

Mendicino said he ended up learning a lot about 1970s pop culture during the February-March, 2005, filming and he grew to appreciate the era.

"It was kind of nice that people didn't have access to me 24/7 (without a cell phone or e-mail)," he said. "When I got out, it was like a dream world. It was like I came out of this bubble of the '70s."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen is the TV editor for the Post-Gazette.