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 She's got the hooks

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PostSubject: She's got the hooks   Sun Jul 05, 2009 11:17 pm

Reality-television producer Allison Grodner has a few words of advice for people who think they want to live the glamorous reality-TV life.

Think again.

If you can see yourself doing anything else at all, you should do it, Grodner said. Because this is the kind of job that takes over your life.

At the moment, Grodner's life belongs to Big Brother, CBS's fish-bowl reality show that begins its 11th edition on Thursday.

For viewers, this means three nights a week of voyeuristic thrills, as the Big Brother contestants begin a summer of lying, cheating and double-crossing, all of it caught by the cameras and microphones wedged into every nook and cranny of the built-for-TV Big Brother house in Los Angeles.

For executive producer Grodner, it means long days, sleep-deprived nights, not enough time with her husband, Dante, and too much Diet Coke. It also means a whole lot of love for the collaborative Hollywood career that got its start in Grodner's San Diego childhood.

I grew up going to (San Diego) Junior Theatre, and I loved it. I worked a lot behind the scenes. I took classes. I starred in 'Heidi,' Grodner said from her futon-equipped office inside the Big Brother production compound.

You couldn't always be in the shows, so you had to earn your credits doing props, or lights or costumes. I love, love, love the theater. It's my favorite thing. And I think that's why I get such a kick out of 'Big Brother,' because it is theater.

The oldest of three children, Grodner was born in Ohio and raised in Mission Hills. Mother Sharon Grodner and stepfather Marc Lewkowicz are psychologists who still live in Mission Hills. Younger sister Rachel is a psychologist who acts as a consultant for reality shows, including Supernanny and Here Come the Newlyweds. Younger brother Daniel is a professor at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

San Diego was a great place to grow up in, Grodner said. I remember spending days at SeaWorld glued to the whale tank. I was fascinated with Shamu. I stalked Shamu.

Grodner went to Fremont Elementary School and Roosevelt Middle School. After graduating from Point Loma High School in 1984, she went to the UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, where she had the great misfortune of graduating during the 1988 Hollywood writers strike.

But a college internship with famed documentarian Arnold Shapiro (Scared Straight) led to a job on Rescue 911, a reality series based on emergency calls and the heroes who answered them. The show ran for seven years on CBS, and by the time it was over, Grodner was a producer and director.

Grodner went on to join Shapiro in producing a collection of nonfiction programs that includes socially conscious documentaries (HBO's Small Town Ecstasy, the Emmy-winning Teen Files); competitive reality shows (The Road to Stardom with Missy Elliott); and workplace reality soaps (Blow Out).

What I love about this is it's the Wild West of television, Grodner said of the nonfiction genre. The rules change all the time, and whether the shows are good or bad, it's exciting to deal with real people, real situations and real emotions. And now I get to do the show that feeds my soul.

That show is She's Got the Look, a modeling competition for women over 35 that is in its second season on the TV Land channel. This year, the finalists include a 41-year-old former carnival performer, a 47-year-old mother of twins and a 72-year-old grandmother. The grand prize is $100,000 and a photo spread in Self magazine.

I love doing things that are outside the box and help transform the genre, Grodner said. Ideally, I want my shows to do something good or something people have never seen before. I want to try to do things that make a difference.

In addition to juggling She's Got the Look and Big Brother, Grodner has multiple shows in development through her company, Allison Grodner Productions. And while her work schedule has kept her from attending any San Diego Junior Theatre reunions, it also serves as a daily reminder of what she learned when she thought she was playing.

I learned to love the creative process while I was there. And I fell in love with that because we had to do everything, Grodner said. I also learned about teamwork, and that is so important, because my best shows and my best experiences in this industry have been all about teamwork. I could not do a show like 'Big Brother' on my own. I have 200 employees, and it's an amazing production team. I am so lucky that I get to do what I do.

http://www3.signonsandiego.com/stories/2009/jul/05/1c5grodner235919/

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