On their new reality show, Stephen Shapiro and Kurt Rappaport try to sell multi-million dollar homes to movie stars, professional athletes and heads of state.
The question is: does anybody care?
The duo's VH1 show, "The Fabulous Life Presents: Really Rich Real Estate," premieres on Nov. 13, and will give viewers a glimpse into the world of ultra high-end residential real estate. The program follows the duo and others at the Beverly Hills-based residential brokerage, Westside Estate Agency Inc., as they show homes to the likes of rapper Master P and actor Tom Arnold.
But the five-episode series will debut after the conclusion of another real estate reality show Bravo's poorly-received "Million Dollar Listing." What's more, some real estate industry professionals wonder whether viewers are interested in another real estate show when markets across the country are experiencing a downturn.
"It totally depends on the area you are in, and what the situation of the economy is across areas of the United States," said Philip Buck, an agent with residential brokerage Rodeo Realty Inc., who shot footage for the show, though it is unclear whether his segment will be used. "I think people will watch it, but it depends on how it comes out. People like to see what is going on here in L.A. and most shows are about fantasy."
Shapiro, chairman of Westside Estate Agency, contends that his show is different from "Million Dollar Listing," which first aired this summer with repeat episodes still running on Bravo, so attracting viewers will not be a problem.
"There is room for a show where people see great houses," Shapiro said, adding that many of the homes on "Really Rich Real Estate" are valued in excess of $10 million, whereas the homes on "Million Dollar Listing" he contends did not measure up. "They are probably tuning in to see houses they won't see under other circumstances, unlike the Bravo show."
According to Nielsen Media Research Inc. data, "Million Dollar Listing" averaged a 0.4 rating for first-run episodes, while the hit Bravo show, "Project Runway" tops 2.0 regularly. (Each ratings point equals 1,102,000 viewers).
Shapiro added that he considers his program a documentary about the business side of a residential brokerage, as opposed to the six-episode "Million Dollar Listing," which often focused on the personal matters of its colorful characters.
For example, television cameras did not follow agents home and the program does not delve into the personal lives of the brokers something he believes viewers care less about than the houses.
"On 'Really Rich Real Estate' there is no drama, no people blowing up at each other, or people making a fool of themselves," Shapiro said. "It's more of a day in the life."
Calls to World of Wonder Productions, the company that produced "Million Dollar Listing," were not returned for comment.
Pax Wassermann, an executive producer with Stick Figure Productions Inc., which produced the new show, said that in contrast to the Bravo program, "Really Rich Real Estate" is a "really elegant affair."
But he did note the competition: "It is always tough when you have a show that hits some of the areas we are focusing on."
Syd Leibovitch, president of Los Angeles-based Rodeo Realty, a high-end brokerage, said the show may be effective in attracting brokers to work for Westside Estate Agency, but he's not sure it will do much to sell homes or attract viewers.
"It will be an impressive thing to attract agents certainly," said Leibovitch. "There are so many shows like that though. I don't know how effective it is going to be."
Shapiro said he is banking on the VH1 program to help boost the profile of his company. But what about that pesky slumping real estate market?
When the program's pilot was shot in summer 2005, there was more real estate activity to cover than during the filming for the show in the spring and summer this year.
"It was harder. There was more activity when we were making the pilot. It was more of a challenge for all of us," Wassermann acknowledged. "But you don't need that many stories for the series."
However, Jeff Olde, VH1 senior vice president of production and programming, said that in any sort of real estate market slumping or not, viewers will always be interested in glamorous homes.
"I think the fascination is always going to be there," Olde said. "Westside Estate Agency is dealing on a level of homes so up in the clouds, they are probably buffered by what us common folks deal with down in the masses in terms of real estate."
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