The unreal world: MTV's 'I'm From Rolling Stone'


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 11:29 p.m.

Judging by a new show that premiered Sunday, I missed my chance at reality show stardom by just a few years. "I'm From Rolling Stone" is an "Apprentice"-like competition which follows six young writers during an internship at the hallowed music magazine, all vying for a spot as a contributing editor.

I actually was an RS intern for five months in 2001, between my sophomore and junior years at New York University. Based on my own experience there, I wondered why anyone would want to film interns at Rolling Stone. Could making photocopies and fetching Krispy Kremes really make for compelling television?

A look at the first two episodes proves that the magazine's treatment of its summer interns has radically changed from my day, or at least since cameras were added into the mix.

These kids worked the red carpet at a star-studded Jay-Z concert.

I covered the phones when the executive assistant took her lunch.

During my summer at Rolling Stone, there was usually only enough work to occupy two interns, although as many as five of us were in the magazine's midtown office at one time. In our ample downtime, we often flipped through back issues, admiring pieces from RS alums like Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer.

A typical work day started with our clipping out the major stories of the day — music-related or otherwise — from major newspapers. We then organized them into a press packet, made about 20 copies and distributed them to the editors and writers, all of whom apparently needed us to tell them what was going on in the world.

Other assignments were more fun, like transcribing taped interviews with musicians and actors, and once or twice actually doing some research for an article.

None of us were ever paid. I spent two to three days a week at the magazine and the rest of my time working two other jobs in order to cover my New York City rent.

We were office grunts lucky to be in that environment. We didn't complain. In the end, we gladly added the words Rolling Stone to our resumes.

Meanwhile, the contenders on this new reality show are given the kind of opportunities normally reserved for seasoned writers: traveling the world, interviewing rock stars and working on hard-hitting exposes, all while struggling to meet deadlines.

The enhanced job description makes sense, given that it was the only way for producers to make the show at all exciting. (Bonus: It gave them an excuse to incorporate loads of celebrity cameos.)

But "I'm From Rolling Stone" loses credibility as soon as it introduces the cast. Given the final prize, one would expect the producers would pick some of the most talented young writers in the country. Having received more than 2,000 applications for the six spots, they certainly had the chance.

Instead, the reality-show casting formula — abrasive personalities and model good looks — won out.

One of the interns, 22-year-old Peter Maiden, is a sociology major at UC Berkeley and had never written an article in his life before making it to the show.

Another cast member, Krystal Simpson, may truly want to be a serious writer, but it's hard to believe the blond and leggy 24-year-old made it to the final six for journalistic ability alone, when every promo features her in a coquettish pose.

Things go further downhill when the interns are given their first assignment: a short piece on the music scene in their hometowns. As RS Executive Editor Joe Levy (the show's de facto host) tells five of the six contestants that their work is just plain bad, he looks almost embarrassed to be treating them as serious contenders for a coveted gig at his magazine.

If "I'm From Rolling Stone," by some miracle, gets picked up for a second season, the producers could shake things up by switching to a different publication. Perhaps following interns at the most widely distributed magazine in the country would help the show find a broader audience.

Then again, "I'm from AARP Magazine" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

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