NEW YORK — There’s a big difference between being New York famous and being famous famous. Atoosa Rubenstein may be about to cross over.
Long a larger-than-life presence in the pages of her magazines, the Seventeen editor in chief will get her first sustained national television exposure later this month when “Miss Seventeen,” a new reality series, airs on MTV.
In its rough outline, “Miss Seventeen,” which premieres Oct. 17 and will air daily, with new episodes on Mondays, sounds a lot like the reality shows that have come before it. A group of young women (17 of them, of course) will live together in a New York City loft, enduring various trials and weekly eliminations. The last girl standing wins the grand prize: A scholarship, an internship at Seventeen, and appearances on the cover of the magazine and in a Maybelline campaign.
The twist is that “Miss Seventeen’s” candidates are being evaluated not just on their performance or their looks but on their personal behavior, as captured on round-the-clock hidden cameras. “It’s a show about being a role model,” said Rubenstein. “The fun of it is seeing who’s just perfect on paper. You can have everything perfect on paper but still be a bee-yotch.”
A show about character might seem excessively wholesome for a network whose audience made hits out of “The Osbournes” and “Jackass.” It’s not, insisted Rubenstein. “The bad girls are definitely the stars,” she said.
She was careful to note, however, that neither she nor the producers knew going in who the bad girls would be. This is in contrast to the artificiality of shows such as “The Real World,” in which it frequently seems as though the participants are chosen to play certain predetermined roles. Rubenstein, who is credited as executive producer and creator of the series in addition to her on-air role as master of ceremonies, said she convinced “Miss Seventeen’s” producers that pre-screened villains were unnecessary. “They trusted me that we would have drama anyway, because there’s nothing more dramatic than girls who are competitive.”
That’s not to say she was above giving the proceedings a nudge in the desired direction as needed. “They would have these spells of being so ‘Kumbaya,’ so at one point I said to them, ‘Girls, you’re not here to sing ‘Kumbaya.'”
As much as being on “Miss Seventeen” could change the winner’s life, the show could have an even bigger effect on Rubenstein’s career if it proves to be a hit. Sharon Osbourne and Tyra Banks both parlayed their reality TV success into talk shows (although Osbourne’s was short-lived, and Banks’ has not performed well in the ratings.) Could Rubenstein make a similar leap? She claims it’s not something that crosses her mind. “I always think about what I’m working on at the time. I don’t know what that means for me in the future.”