The return of “Barely Famous” on VH1 Wednesday night is a victory for producer Jason Carbone.
Carbone, a reality TV vet who leads the Good Clean Fun production banner, had the idea for a hybrid reality-comedy series skewering the hypocrisy of being a celebrity in Hollywood. In Erin and Sara Foster, daughters of A-list tunesmith David Foster, he found the perfect leading ladies. The pair grew up in the world of red carpets, film sets and velvet ropes but were not boldface names in their own right.
However, over the course of its six-episode freshman season in March and April 2015, viewership of “Barely Famous” never rose above 150,000.
But the show struck a nerve in Hollywood for gently poking fun at the conventions and entitlements of the Beautiful People. The Foster sisters gained notice for their comedic chops on the show that is partly scripted and partly the two going about their regular business in Beverly Hills and environs with some of their celebrity pals. The second season features guest shots from such notables as Chris Martin, Chelsea Handler, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba, Zach Braff, Kate Upton, Cindy Crawford and Dr. Phil McGraw.
“The key question we like to pose to the audience is: Is this real or is this a stunt,” Carbone says. “We poke fun at all of the reality TV tropes we can and we offer them the opportunity to laugh along at the madness of being a celebrity.”
“Barely Famous” was spared from the chopping block, despite its meager linear audience, because VH1 saw chatter about the show and the sisters bubbling up on social media, long after the initial six episodes aired.
“We saw that there was definitely a conversation that started around season one,” says Kristen Kelly, VP of production and programming for VH1. “The girls don’t take themselves to seriously and poke fun at themselves. That sense of humor and having fun with pop culture is so on-brand for VH1.”
Kelly credits Carbone’s track record as a producer for their willingness to stick with “Barely Famous.” Carbone cut his teeth as a producer on “The Bachelor” and “Bachlorette” franchises before striking out on his own with Good Clean Fun in 2005. He was behind MTV’s “Run’s House,” with Run DMC’s Rev. Run, and its spinoff “Daddy’s Girls,” as well as such vehicles as TV Land’s “Harry Loves Lisa,” Style’s “Tia and Tamera.” At present he’s back working with Rev. Run on Cooking Channel’s “Rev. Run’s Sunday Suppers.”
“He always comes to us with fresh ideas and has a point of view on things,” Kelly said of Carbone. “I trust him so much when we get into business. You know he’s going to do everything he can to knock it out of the park.”
Carbone zeroed in on his niche of comedic celebrity reality series after realizing that the harder edge of reality TV was wearing thin on viewers and on prospective talent. He makes no apologies for the sprinkling of staged moments in “Barely Famous” and some of his other shows — they’re not billed as a cinema verite documentaries, after all.
“I think that the definition of reality TV is starting to morph into something that should just be called alternative TV,” he says. “We’ve always been a really talent-friendly company. They know we’re not out to make them look bad.”
The next big project for Good Clean Fun is Travel Channel’s “Island Fever with Stewart Copeland.” It’s designed to be a travelogue show fronted by the drummer and co-founder of the Police. A 90-minute special featuring Copeland’s trek to Bali will air as a backdoor pilot later this year.
“Stewart is a guy who has circumnavigated the globe but usually only seen it through the back of a tour bus,” Carbone says.
(Pictured: Jason Carbone)