Sample Chapters: Excerpts

Sample Chapters

Chapter 5: Faking the Real: Everyday Secrets and the Rise of Peep TV (excerpt)

Meet John Egly of Poolesvile, Maryland. He’s going to take us all the way back to the year 2004 when Reality TV was young and pop culture’s move to Peep still seemed temporarily exotic, like Richard Hatch grilling a rat. So, 2004. San Francisco issues marriage licenses to samesex couples as an act of civil disobedience. Billy Crystal hosts the 76th Academy Awards and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King wins 11 Oscars. The infamous Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse photos are released to widespread revulsion. Ronald Reagan dies and George Bush Jr. is re-elected. Fox Television premieres the show Trading Spouses to high ratings and the general amusement of all. Enter John Egly. He doesn’t know it yet, but 2004 will be the year when the real estate appraiser and his family exchange a week of their lives for a $50,000 paycheck and the chance to be on national TV. John Egly isn’t the first person to agree to such a trade. Nor will the outcome of his decision be particularly earthshaking. But that’s exactly what makes his participation notable. Who is John Egly? He’s a middle income, middle American father and husband. He’s the everyman of Peep. He’s 2004’s nobody of the year, the already forgotten Reality TV star who symbolizes the moment when, just about in the middle of first decade of the millennium, Peep culture went suddenly mainstream. John Egly is the guy who’s going to show us how normal and everyday watching the neighbors (on TV) has become. When Fox called our Peep everyman, John Egly was surprised. He’d never seen Trading Spouses, a new show at the time, or imagined himself on television. In fact, it was his then fifteen- yearold daughter who had sent the requisite application without telling anyone else in the family. “I picked up the phone,” says Egly, “and they said ‘This is Trading Spouses calling’. And I said ‘Thank you very much but we’re not really into that’.” But guess what? The Eglys were into it. And so was Fox. A fun loving liberal Jewish couple living their version of the American dream complete with 4 kids and 7 horses, the Eglys seemed eccentric enough to be interesting and normal enough to appeal to the mainstream. “They explained that my daughter had emailed them. She told them that we lived out in the country with seven horses and that we’re Jewish and that’s what’s unique. I wasn’t really sure because I’d never been in this situation, but I was excited and wondering what the next step would be.” The next step was for Fox to send out a representative and check the family out. Egly tells me that the initial interview lasted four to five hours. The family was asked about school, work, what they did for fun. “They didn’t really at that time emphasis the Jewish part, it was more or less about being out in the country.”   After an initial interview at their home, the Eglys were invited to fly to Hollywood for a tryout. As John Egly tells me: “It was like American Idol, you know? ‘You’re going to Hollywood.’ ” For five days, the Eglys were guests of Fox, quartered in a luxury hotel. In return, they were poked, prodded, psychologically evaluated, filmed from every angle. They were asked about their politics, their religion, their family dynamic. “They paid for the whole family to fly out and they put us up in a five star hotel for five days. We went to two or three interviews per day plus a mental and physical examination. We were evaluated by psychologists and psychiatrists, they wanted to make sure we weren’t crazy. And there were interviews with producers, if you’ve ever seen a movie star interviewed, this is what they did to us, they put us in a room alone with an interviewer, I’ve never been a star, and it really felt great. They asked us if we were proud to be Jewish. We didn’t feel uncomfortable, they did it in a way that was very relaxed, kept us excited about this whole thing, maybe we were going to be on TV. They gave us $1,000 just to spend. They went all out.” A mere three days after returning home, they got the call: they were in.“A week later,” says John Egly, “they were out here filming.” The speed of the transition from initial phone call to total takeover of the Egly family’s life left little time to reflect, let alone worry. “We had a contract that we had to sign, it was two hundred pages, covering everything. They could sue us up to seven million dollars, they actually specified seven million dollars. They own you, we couldn’t say anything about the show without their permission up to two years afterwards. They put two interior cameras on the ceiling, one in the living room and one in the kitchen. Even if the camera men aren’t walking around you’re always on film. They explained to us that we were going to be on camera sixteen hours a day for the week .” In return, the contract specified that the Egly family would receive $50,000 dollars, no strings attached despite the fact that Trading Spouses always ends with the two families telling each other how they have to spend the money. As John Egly says, “that’s a hoax, that’s just part of the show.”


The Book: The Peep Diaries

The Peep Diaries will be Published by City Lights Books in May 2009
ISBN 1991022

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The Publisher: City Lights

City Lights Books

City Lights Publishers

In June of 1955, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, launched City Lights Publications with the Pocket Poets Series. The first volume was a collection of his own poems, Pictures of the Gone World, which has since become a classic of beat literature and… more...


Author! Author!

Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, culture commentator and editor whose work challenges preconceptions and confronts readers with the offenses of everyday life. He is the author of six books including the novel The Program and the nonfiction book The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves… more...