Some of the parents beg to differ: “These producers completely manipulated these kids, feeding them lines and telling them to insult each other,” says one. “This is going to hurt these kids emotionally, because they are saying that they are something they are not. It’s a terrible lie.” And the schools are unamused as well. Dorothy Hutcheson, Nightingale’s head of school, sent a letter of condemnation to parents—“As with most series of this genre, the show is ‘reality’ in name only,” she wrote. Stephen Spahn, the chancellor of Dwight, was so displeased with the portrayal of Leavitt and Peterson that he threatened expulsion to kids who might participate in such a show in the future.
On Madison Avenue, real-life teenagers are quick to dis NYC Prep as unrealistic, claiming that it’s scripted, pointing out that none of the students from Dalton or most academically challenging schools took the bait. Who would be so uncool as to be on a reality show? “I think all those kids have, like, issues, because otherwise why would you let a camera follow you around all day,” says an underclassman from Fieldston, her hair swinging back and forth. She laughs a little. “Actually, the other day, I think it was a Wednesday, my friends and I were out partying and we didn’t have anywhere to go, and we were like, ‘Let’s call up Kelli, she has a free house!’ ”
The denizens of NYC Prep may be ingenues who’ve fallen in with the wrong crowd. Sweet children, under it all. But youthful mistakes, however innocently made, are not so easy to extricate oneself from.
Last week, the morning after Michael Jackson’s death, Bravo held a runway show for another recent offering, The Fashion Show, inviting the ladies from The Real Housewives and the kids from NYC Prep to sit in the audience. A knot of news photographers stood at the end of the runway, taking pictures of these “VIPs” as they filed into the cavernous space, lit a deep purple. It was very odd, an event turned in on itself, a fake fashion show in a spot where many real fashion awards are doled out.
From their front-row seats, the Real Housewives of New York City mingled with the Jersey ladies, in between pushing their brand extensions of HSN jewelry and new books (“Secrets of a Jewish Mother!” barks Zarin). “You’ve got your hands full!” Zarin told Danielle, she of the sordid past. “I was abused, too, so I understand,” said Ramona Singer, reaching out to touch her.
The girls from NYC Prep sat in the second row, listening to the chatter, not sure what to do. Once a reality show makes you a celebrity, that’s who you are. You have to own your shame or become shameless. This is the drama that PC Peterson and his friends may find themselves living. They’re characters in a morality play about New York decadence. It’s a tough thing to be famous for.