Reality TV Takes Over Brooklyn

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Christie and her "crew" hang out at a beach in Southern Brooklyn. (Patrick Harbron / Oxygen Media)

Drinking, cursing and fighting Italian-Americans are nothing new to television thanks to the reality show, “Jersey Shore.” Because of that program’s popularity, Bay Ridge gets its moment in the TV spotlight this month, but residents, especially Italian American ones, aren’t too happy about it.

Brooklyn 11223,” a reality show that premieres Monday March 26 on Oxygen, focuses on a group of 20-something friends that live in Bay Ridge and the surrounding neighborhoods of Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Bensonhurst and Gravesend. Like most successful reality shows, it also centers on the group’s drama.

The show has been compared to “Jersey Shore,” and it’s negative portrayal of Italian-Americans. Except for a couple of cast members, the rest of the 18 people featured in “Brooklyn 11223” have Italian heritage.

One of the most publically vocal opponents of the show has been Councilman Vincent Gentile, who represents Bay Ridge.

“‘Brooklyn 11223’ is NOT what Bay Ridge is about, NOT what Bay Ridge wants and NOT what Bay Ridge needs,” he posted on his Facebook page about a February 24 rally held in the community to protest the show. “We refuse to stand by and let ‘Hollywood’ portray the hardworking, proud, cultured and creative residents of Bay Ridge in this disparaging light.”

At the press conference, Gentile was surrounded by local women, and said, “We’re here to present the real women of Bay Ridge,” reported the Brooklyn Eagle.

On March 15, the paper started a series called “The Real Women of Bay Ridge,” which profiles accomplished women from the community. The most recent woman featured, was one of Gentile’s aides, Sara Steinweiss, on March 22. Before joining Gentile’s staff in September 2011, she was a teacher for 12 years.

In an editor’s note, the Brooklyn Eagle said the series is in celebration of Women’s History Month, and in response to “Brooklyn 11223,” and its depiction of “women cursing, drinking and fighting in Bay Ridge and other neighborhoods.”

“Brooklyn 11223” isn’t the first reality show to cause backlash, and it’s also not the first one to take place in Brooklyn. It’s one of three reality TV programs based in the borough that are premiering within a couple months of each other.

A Slice of Brooklyn,” about a famous tour company of the same name, premiered on March 7 on the Travel channel. On April 28, Rambug, a reality show about Rambug Pest Control, an extermination company located in Brooklyn, is premiering on A&E.

All three of the shows include Italian-American cast members, a population that Brooklyn has long been associated with.

The latest, “Brooklyn 11223,” centers around two groups of friends, or “crews,” one led by Joey Lynn Tekulve, 24, from Gravesend (the actual neighborhood with the 11223 zip code) who has Sicilian roots, and Christie Livoti, 22, also Sicilian and from Gravesend. The girls used to be close friends, but have not spoken since Christie accused Joey Lynn of sleeping with her boyfriend.

In a release, the show’s executive producer, Michael Hirschorn, said, “the inspiration for the show came from a Broadway revival of ‘West Side Story.’”

The first episode’s opening highlights the show’s location as a “hard, full-blooded Italian neighborhood,” where people look out for each other and have a “hardcore exterior.” Within about the first minute, the word drama is repeated multiple times.

A slogan Oxygen has been using with Brooklyn 11223 is “This Ain’t Jersey. It’s Brooklyn.” And that doesn’t please too many residents. Lex Steppling, who lives in Brooklyn said this claim is “kind of ironic seeing as they are going to be portraying Bay Ridge as a very similar place,” in a comment left on The Brooklyn Ink’s Facebook page.

“A Slice of Brooklyn” and “Rambug,” also highlight their Brooklyn and Italian heritage. A Slice of Brooklyn’s company motto is “Manhattan? Fuhgettaboutit!” A&E, in a press release about “Rambug,” says the show is about “a brawny group of hard-working, over-the-top Italian exterminators from Brooklyn who dress in camouflage and wage war on the city’s nastiest critters.”

But “A Slice of Brooklyn” and “Rambug” are quite different than the drama-filled, partying that takes place in “Brooklyn 11223.” Instead they center on two successful Brooklyn businesses run by Italian-Americans.

A Slice of Brooklyn, a popular tour company founded by Brooklyn native Tony Muia, gives tours of Brooklyn’s famous landmarks, movie scenes and neighborhoods. Its particular focus: the history of pizza from Italy to Brooklyn, as well as a Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour.

Rambug is the story of Rambug Pest Control, a family-owned Brooklyn company that has been in business for over 30 years, killing bugs throughout the tristate area.

The three newest shows have a predecessor, which perhaps has an even tougher reputation for stereotyping. “Russian Dolls,” a Lifetime reality series that takes place in Brighton Beach, was criticized in 2011 for its negative portrayal of the neighborhood and the Russian community. The show, which focuses on the drama of its mostly 20-something cast members, has also been compared to the “Jersey Shore.”

In an August 2011 New York Times article following the show’s premiere, one Russian woman said, “The show only entrenched American stereotypes of hard-partying Russians.”

Another series famous for centering on young partying types, the Real World had its 21st season in Brooklyn. It premiered on MTV in January 2009 and featured eight cast members living in a house in Red Hook.

More new reality shows in Brooklyn probably won’t be far off. An A&E casting call posted on the website in November asked for “fun Brooklyn girls with big personalities to appear on a new A&E reality shooting in Brooklyn.”

According to the New York Post, former “The Real Housewives of New York” cast member Alex McCord and her husband Simon van Kempen are shopping around for a reality show about 30-something parents living in Brooklyn. During McCord’s time on “The Housewives,” many scenes were shot at the couple’s brownstone in Cobble Hill where they live with their two young sons.

“Brooklyn 11223” premieres Monday, March 26, at 11 p.m.




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