I recently saw a preview of the upcoming NBC Reality Series, "Tommy Lee Goes To College." Reality shows have saturated the television market to such a degree that the mention of yet another one tends to prompt a snicker or a well timed eye roll when mentioned. But just like with sitcoms and 60 minute dramas, there are good reality shows and bad reality shows. After screening the first two episodes of "Tommy Lee Goes to College" the other night, I would say this one qualifies as a definite must see!
Television as we know it is changing, and unscripted shows are the current trend. So I say we embrace the new face of television, and how can you not when the new face of television is Tommy Lee?? This show is endearing, funny and ironic. Tommy Lee appears humbled and eager to please by his experiences of facing academic challenges and establishing relationships with both faculty and his fellow students at The University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Tommy's childlike enthusiasm for his college experience will cause the audience at home to really be pulling for him to succeed. I know I did. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Executive Producer and Director of "Tommy Lee Goes to College," Eddie October, as well as Natalie Riedmann and Matt Ellis, who were cast as Tommy's beautiful and extremely smart tutor and his game-for-anything roommate, respectively.
Meet The Man with the Plan - Executive Producer and Director Eddie October
PR.com (Allison Kugel): Tommy Lee Goes To College premieres on August 16th?
Eddie October: Yes, two back to back episodes.
PR.com: How many episodes are there altogether?
Eddie October: 6
PR.com: Aren't a lot of these reality shows more like mini series then?
Eddie October: They are, yeah. That seems to be the trend.
PR.com: How many hours of footage did you actually shoot?
Eddie October: Tons. Hundreds of hours.
PR.com: Who came up with the premise of "Tommy Lee Goes To College?"
Eddie October: A guy named Brad Wyman and a guy named B.T. were working on a movie, and somebody asked B.T., he was doing some computer based music stuff, and he asked, "where did you learn that music stuff?" And B.T. said, "At college." He went to Berkley School of Music. Brad said, "I'm gonna take that to CAA (Creative Artists Agency)." And they hooked me up. I had finished "Bands Reunited" and they thought it was a good music tie in. CAA hooked me up with Brad.
PR.com: You're a client there?
Eddie October: Yeah. And Tommy's a client there. When the list of possibilities of who would be perfect for this concept came up, it really came down to one name that was perfect for it and that was Tommy Lee.
PR.com: Tommy was a Producer on the show as well?
Eddie October: Yes.
PR.com: What was Tommy Lee's role as a Producer and what was your role as Executive Producer?
Eddie October: Tommy and his Manager Carl were part of it from the get go. Tommy and Carl went with us to the pitches. NBC was among the first, and they bought it, literally, within 24 hours. Tommy was key to [the show] because it was a great concept from the start, but unless you have the right personality that people tap into unless he was in the room with us pitching the show, you really couldn't see it come together. When he was with us, it just made total sense because he does have a little bit of a bad boy reputation. (A little bit?) When you think of the term "fish out of water," he personifies that expression when you consider "Tommy Lee Goes to College."
PR.com: Did Tommy show a genuine interest in going to college, or was it more just about the show?
Eddie October: From the very first pitch with NBC, we knew that Tommy had to take it seriously. We knew that he really had to make an earnest effort to do well in school. Otherwise, [the audience] wasn't going to be rooting for him. And if he just went in, and kicked over some podiums and made fun of professors, that's funny in a way, but it's really one note. It's not going to keep people coming back episode after episode. You'll see in the first couple episodes that you really start rooting for this guy. That was key, and Tommy knew that right from the start. He's a pretty savvy guy.
PR.com: Did he do a semester and take a course load?
Eddie October: He took three main classes and he went for a part of a semester. He wasn't an enrolled student. It wasn't for credit. It's not like he's Doctor Tommy Lee. (We both laugh) He took Horticulture, Chemistry and English Literature.
PR.com: And Horticulture was his favorite
Eddie October: Yeah it was
PR.com: According to Natalie (Tommy's tutor)
Eddie October: That's funny
Eddie October: He just kind of feels in touch with plants. Tommy loves landscaping and he appreciates [plants] and he knows a bit about it.
PR.com: Who cast Natalie Riedmann , Tommy's tutor and Matt Ellis, Tommy's roommate for the show?
Eddie October: They were both real students at the University. We went in a little bit early to scope out the campus undercover, under the radar.
PR.com: Matt said he was working at a bar and somebody came in and was asking him some questions and feeling him out. Was that you??
Eddie October: It's true. I was one of those people. He was one of the people we really liked. Natalie was the same thing. The show was reality, but we knew we wanted certain story beats to be a part of our story arch.
PR.com: Natalie is a beautiful blonde, which you knew would push Tommy's buttons
Eddie October: She's also super smart and a real chemistry straight A student. And it was the perfect combination for us.
PR.com: Tommy said that he was attracted to Natalie and he had trouble concentrating during their tutoring sessions. (Eddie laughs) Is that what you were hoping for?
Eddie October: Yeah, a little bit. But she had to be smart and she had to be a real student with real credentials. She was a gift from god. She's the hot tutor, and she's super smart.
PR.com: Hot for the teacher. HA! And Matt looks like the quintessential bookworm, which is in strong contrast to Tommy Lee's look and image. Was that done purposely also?
Eddie October: Tommy talked to a number of possible dorm mates, which you'll see in the first episode. But Matt was somebody we really liked because he has that quality of innocence to him. We wanted to know what would happen over the course of the six episodes, because you start out being the quiet, smart, serious student but when you're with Tommy we knew that over the course of the series, this guy is gonna become the most popular kid on campus.
PR.com: Is that what happened?
Eddie October: It's pretty close to what happened. Matt became a little bit of a different guy.
PR.com: I asked Matt if Tommy was a good wing man (Eddie cracks up)
Eddie October: What'd he say?
PR.com: He said, "Well I had a girlfriend." Wrong time to have a girlfriend dude.
Eddie October: They had a good time and they liked each other a lot. There was a day we weren't shooting and [Tommy and Matt] went out together to hang out for the day at the zoo or something. It wasn't just for the camera.
PR.com: Matt liked Tommy Lee quite a bit. He said Tommy was a very sweet, down to earth, very good person. Is that what you found as well?
Eddie October: Absolutely! I had no idea how I was going to get along with him, directing and being with Tommy every second of every day. He's such a positive spirit.
PR.com: I have a thing for tattoos and piercings.
Eddie October: Really?
PR.com: Yeah. That really does it for me.
Eddie October: You gotta talk to Tommy.
PR.com: And I'm single. Hook me up man!
Eddie October: What are you talking to me for??
PR.com: He's in Europe touring.
Eddie October: Yeah, I know. The guy works so hard. When we were shooting, in the first few days, we started making each other laugh. As soon as we connected on that level and thinking [about] what would be fun for the show and watching the reaction to the people on campus, we totally bonded. I really love him.
PR.com: How did the majority of students and faculty react to Tommy?
Eddie October: We wanted to capture the real campus reactions to him. So we were very quiet about it, and we had a confidentiality agreement with the University and Chancellor. Only a few people knew that we were coming to campus. That was important to us, because we knew that part of the show was that vibe. The first week, we caused a huge brew ha ha. People swarming around us.. Not only students, but local press was all over the place. Tommy is such a positive force and he always stops to talk to people, and everybody who met him he won them over.
PR.com: Was Tommy curious about Fraternity life?
Eddie October: He was. He goes to some Frat houses and interacts with some of the students. There's a big chunk of the show that's about that. Matt and Tommy actually started their [own little] Fraternity late in the series.
PR.com: Kind of like the movie "Old School."
Eddie October: A little bit like that, yeah.
PR.com: What goes into directing a reality show? It almost seems like a contradiction in terms.
Eddie October: Because it was NBC, we wanted it to look and feel like big production value. And we got that stuff. It was a mandate of the network that the show looks great.
PR.com: The directing was mostly about capturing certain visuals?
Eddie October: It was about the way we captured it, it was about really capturing that environment. But, also how we put it together. What did Natalie [Riedmann] (Tommy's tutor) have to say?
PR.com: Natalie was a tough nut to crack. Tougher then any celebrity I've ever interviewed. She was very guarded. I said, "Tommy was really attracted to you and he couldn't concentrate at times." Then I asked, "Was it mutual?" And she giggled and said, "I think he's a beautiful person." But she was really sweet. Matt was really cool. I loved talking to him.
Eddie October: They were both great, and Tommy. We were doing the show and Tommy's taking classes and he has finals and in the middle of it he had to run out for five days of a book tour. And he went around, I don't know how many cities, and then came back and continued his classes. At the end of his period there, we had him take finals and they were finals that the professors did just for the material that Tommy was in class for, which we thought was fair. But they were real tests and he felt the pressure of it.
PR.com: Yeah, tests are nerve wracking. How'd he do?
Eddie October: We're keeping it for the final episode.
PR.com: I'm guessing that he did well.
Eddie October: Really? Why?
PR.com: Because I think he's a smart guy. I would say he did well in Horticulture and English.
Eddie October: I am not giving away anything!!! (Fine ;-)
Meet Natalie Riedmann - Tommy Lee's Gorgeous and Incredibly Smart Tutor
PR.com: Hi Natalie. How did producer Eddie October cast you to be Tommy Lee's tutor for the show?
Natalie Riedmann: I was just on campus with a bunch of friends, I was actually walking with my boyfriend to be honest I ran into one of the casting agents and he found out I teach chemistry labs at [University of Nebraska at] Lincoln, so they cast me after that.
PR.com: Is that what you tutored Tommy Lee in? Chemistry?
Natalie Riedmann: Yeah, I started with Chemistry and then I ended up helping him with pretty much all of his classes.
PR.com: Which classes?
Natalie Riedmann: He took a Horticulture class and then he also picked up some Physics classes, took an English class and was in the band which counts as a credit.
PR.com: You had a background in beauty pageants, correct?
Natalie Riedmann: Uh huh
PR.com: Did they purposely position it where they cast you because of the way you look, to create a certain kind of atmosphere?
Natalie Riedmann: You know, I have absolutely no idea if there were any other intentions. I just know that [the producers] talked to me a lot about school and it went from there.
PR.com: Tommy said that he found it hard to concentrate when you were tutoring him, because he was attracted to you. (she laughs) Did you read that anywhere?
Natalie Riedmann: Um, you know what I've seen that in a couple places, yeah.
PR.com: Was it mutual or was it pretty much one sided?
Natalie Riedmann: Was I attracted to him?
Natalie Riedmann: I thought he was a beautiful person. I was just kind of fascinated by his whole personality, but I don't think it got in the way of my tutoring or anything.
PR.com: Did he appear focused when you were tutoring him?
Natalie Riedmann: He definitely doesn't have the longest attention span of everybody I've ever worked with. But, he was really really trying. But every once in a while he would just start playing drums on the desk or just kind of go off randomly like that.
PR.com: And he taught you how to play the drums?
Natalie Riedmann: He tried. I never really caught it that well. He tried to show me a couple of things. I was awful. I thought it was so easy too, and then I just felt stupid.
PR.com: Well, I'm sure it takes years of training.
Natalie Riedmann: I would hope so.
PR.com: Did you get to know Tommy's roommate, Matt Ellis?
Natalie Riedmann: Oh yeah! We're really good friends now. We still hang out. I didn't know him before and now he's one of my closest guy friends on campus.
PR.com: Do you still keep in touch with Tommy Lee?
Natalie Riedmann: Uh huh. I talk to him in some way, shape, or form every week. I just got a text message from him yesterday, saying that he's off in Spain.
PR.com: Did he tell you that you influenced him in a positive way?
Natalie Riedmann: He never mentioned anything specific, but he always thanked me for being patient and he said he picked up a lot of things.
Meet Matt Ellis - Tommy Lee's Awesomely Cool College Roommate
PR.com: So Matt was Tommy Lee your roommate in your senior year?
Matt Ellis: Yeah. My last semester.
PR.com: How were you cast to be Tommy Lee's college roommate?
Matt Ellis: It was one of those "right place at the right time" situations. I work at a bar in downtown Lincoln and one night I just happened to be working the door and a group of people came in and I started talking to one of them. She ended up asking a lot of questions about the city of Lincoln and the University, and if I was a student. We talked for five or ten minutes and she asked me what my living situation was. I didn't have a roommate. It was my first semester without a roommate. And she spilled the beans. She said, "We're all producers and we're going to film a reality show at the University. That was before anybody knew about it. There wasn't a buzz on campus. There was a casting call, and I didn't end up going to it. We had [exchanged] numbers and after all of that was done, she called me back and asked if they could talk to me some more. Eventually they said, "We'd like you to be in it and we can't tell you much about it but somebody's going to move in with you."
PR.com: And they wouldn't tell you who?
Matt Ellis: No, they didn't tell me who. When I opened the door and the shock on my face that's me finding out. It was pretty crazy.
PR.com: If it wasn't Tommy Lee, but somebody else like him, a regular college student like yourself, what would have been your reaction to rooming with somebody like him?
Matt Ellis: For anybody, me included, if somebody just completely different then you is like, "Hey, what's up roomie?," you're probably gonna be like, "Ok, this'll be interesting." But, I try to be open minded with everyone. Maybe that's what got me [on the show]. You hear so many stories about Tommy Lee and how he's such a partier, and my first thought was, "Oh my God, this is gonna be a wild ride!" The whole idea was that somebody was gonna be coming to college and when I saw it was him, I was like, "No way this is gonna be dull!"
PR.com: He was living with you full time for how long?
Matt Ellis: About two months.
PR.com: So you guys were day in, day out, actual roommates for two months?
Matt Ellis: Oh yeah. Anything that roommates do, we did.
PR.com: Heart to heart late night talks?
Matt Ellis: Yeah, actually we got to know each other pretty quick. It was a unique situation for both of us. When people get thrown in those situations, they kind of get to know each other pretty fast. He was totally cool with asking me anything, and he let me know that it was just as much my place as it was his. So, we came into it with mindsets that there are not really cameras or anything. We're actually living together. We went out and ate and talked a whole lot.
PR.com: What kind of stuff did you guys talk about?
Matt Ellis: A lot about what he wanted to do while he was there and a lot about what I'd done, the four and a half years I was there. We bonded a lot on the college part of it and about other things. I like music a lot, and so just to hear him talk about it. That's his life! Here is somebody whose life is music and who's been doing it forever and is successful like him. To hear him talk about it is really cool.
PR.com: Were you familiar with Motley Crue's music?
Matt Ellis: Yeah. I wasn't a super fan or anything. Everybody knows a few of their songs. Obviously the ones that everybody knows, I like. Whenever they come on at a bar or a party
PR.com: Did he ask you which song was your favorite?
Matt Ellis: No. He doesn't like to talk about himself a lot. That's something that's really interesting about him. He's really down to earth and very humble. So he wasn't like, "Oh, you know Motley? What's your favorite song?" He wanted to know what I did and what I was into, outside of college too. And the same thing with him. Outside of music I got to know other stuff that you don't necessarily know or see with somebody who's a musician. Everyone always asks them about music and they don't really know [what else they like.]
PR.com: Did Tommy talk to you about Horticulture?
Matt Ellis: Yeah, and he talked about how he likes his home. He set up all the landscaping and stuff like that. He likes to be really involved in that and pick the trees and plants and stuff. He talked about his boys (sons Brandon and Dylan) and that was really cool to see that side of him.
PR.com: Did you introduce Tommy to your Fraternity?
Matt Ellis: Yes.
PR.com: Was Tommy interested in fraternity life, since he never went to college?
Matt Ellis: Yeah, he didn't really know much about it, other then what he's seen in movies. So, he wanted to know what was real and what wasn't. That's part of his college experience that comes out.
PR.com: Why do you think the producers chose University of Nebraska at Lincoln over any other college setting in the country?
Matt Ellis: I think it was a place that everybody can relate to, whether you are from New York Texas, or Minnesota or even a very small town in the Midwest. You'll be able to look at Lincoln and think, "Oh I'd feel comfortable there." And, it's a college town. So, anybody whose ever had a college experience is gonna watch this show and be like, "Oh, that was just like when I was in school! I know exactly what Tommy's going through" I guess it was a place with a lot for Tommy to do and it was also obvious that he didn't fit in.
PR.com: How would you rate Tommy as a wingman?
Matt Ellis: That guy is, seriously the song "Girls, Girls, Girls" absolutely makes sense when you're in a room with the guy and there are ladies around.
PR.com: Did he give you tips on picking up girls?
Matt Ellis: Yeah, and I have a girlfriend so
PR.com: You had a girlfriend at the time?
Matt Ellis: Yeah.
PR.com: What a waste.
Matt Ellis: Yeah, well Tommy's so smooth, she didn't care.
He smoothed it over (we laugh).