‘UnREAL’ pulls back the curtain of reality TV

Shiri Appleby, left, and Constance Zimmer star in the new series  UnREAL.
Shiri Appleby, left, and Constance Zimmer star in the new series UnREAL.

How much of what happens in a reality TV show is real?

If you believe the shenanigans you’ll see in Lifetime’s UnREAL, you’ll come to the conclusion that it’s all just a giant put-on.

UnREAL is an engrossing new drama series, premiering at 9 p.m. Monday, that goes behind the scenes of a fictional Bachelor-style dating show.

Nothing that happens on “Everlasting” is on the level. The rich English bachelor doesn’t want to be involved; the gaggle of gold-diggers all have crass agendas; and the amoral producers will use any trick in the book to create memorable episodes of train-wreck TV.

How could this dishonest genre of television ever have been labeled “reality” in the first place?

Constance Zimmer, who stars as Quinn King, the cold-blooded executive producer of “Everlasting,” says she has no idea if UnREAL is what it’s truly like.

“I can’t answer that question, because I’ve never been on a reality show,” the actress says. “I didn’t tour any reality show sets to do research either. I don’t know if any of these shows would allow me to come look around and see how it’s done anyway.”

Even if this isn’t exactly what it’s like, it doesn’t matter much to Zimmer, because it’s fun to imagine it this way.

Just remember, UnREAL isn’t “reality” either. “I think it’s pretty much like everything on television: an exaggerated version of the truth,” she says.

The show also stars Shiri Appleby as Rachel Goldberg, a young staffer whose soul-crushing job is to manipulate contestants into making exceptionally poor choices on camera.

When someone cries, when someone lies, if there’s a dust-up or a meltdown, it’s the makings of “good” reality TV — and it’s hard to feel sorry for the victimized contestants, because most of them came on the show seeking nothing more than 15 minutes of fame anyway.

What a fertile playground this is for dynamic storytelling, Zimmer says.

“There haven’t really been any shows that have pulled back the curtain on reality television,” she says. “There have been a lot of spoofs and tongue-in-cheek shows, but there hasn’t been a scripted behind-the-scenes approach. That, to me, makes it very interesting.”

UnREAL is created and executive-produced by Marti Noxon, whose credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mad Men and Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.

If the show is successful enough to rate a second season, the premise will likely undergo a complete overhaul. A follow-up season could be about the making of a Survivor-type series. Or an American Idol-style talent show. Or a weight-loss competition. Anything.

“Once this storyline is done, after the suitor makes his selection, Quinn can go work on a different kind of reality show and bring her entire team with her,” Zimmer notes. “That means we’ll be able to explore different genres, tell different kinds of stories, reinvent ourselves. That makes this a special show.”

Speaking of doing whatever it takes to boost ratings, Zimmer, Appleby and Josh Kelly participated in a nude photo shoot to promote UnREAL. “We would laugh that we were literally willing to take our clothes off to make people watch this show,” Zimmer says.

Zimmer is probably best known for her recurring role in Entourage as Dana Gordon, the tough movie studio executive who had a sexually charged relationship with super-agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven).

Quinn and Dana are cut from the same cloth. “They’re both strong, unfiltered women,” Zimmer says. “Quinn is meaner, although as the series progresses we’ll see a lot of vulnerability and insecurity. I do feel that the Dana Gordon fans are going to love Quinn.”

Zimmer is also in the new Entourage movie, which opens in theaters on Wednesday.

“I was super nervous for a while, waiting to find out if I was in the movie,” she says. “Then, when I found out that I was, I was so elated and so excited that Dana Gordon made the cut.”


▪ 9 pm. Monday

▪ Lifetime