First premiering in 1992, The Real World was unlike anything on TV at the time, with the cast of New York being the first to go through MTV’s “social experiment” of putting strangers together in a house, where they would be taped as they lived and worked together. The first season was a hit among viewers, with Andre, Becky, Eric, Heather, Julie, Kevin and Norman becoming household names, while the groundbreaking franchise went on to shatter taboos, tackle modern-day issues and help people see themselves on TV for the first time over the course of its extended run.
Now, nearly 30 years after finding out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real, here’s what audiences need to know about the original season, whose cast members are reuniting for the first time in decades for The Real World Homecoming: New York on Paramount+.
The Original Seven
Rebecca “Becky” Blasband, 24: From Pennsylvania, Becky is a moody artist and folk singer at a crossroads in her life. She notably starts dating one of the show’s directors.
Andre Comeau, 23: The indie rock singer and “prototypical Gen-X guy” with long hair hailed from Michigan before moving to New York, in hopes of breaking big with his band.
Heather B. Gardner, 20: The driven and outspoken New Jersey-based rapper focuses on recording her solo album, which addresses date rape and misogyny, after spending time on the road.
Julie Gentry, 19: The youngest housemate, Julie hails from Alabama with dreams of becoming a professional dancer. Her innocence about life leads her to but heads with her roommates.
Norman Korpi, 25: Also from Michigan, Norman is the series first openly LGBTQ cast member who finds his sexuality the center of conversation when discussions about love and relationships come up in house.
Eric Nies, 20: The New Jersey print and TV model is the most eccentric and charismatic of the bunch, who finds his views not always taken seriously because of his good looks.
Kevin Powell, 26: The older roommate, Kevin is originally from New Jersey but is all New York through and through. The writer often finds himself at odds with the rest of the cast, especially when discussing race and prejudices in society.
What to Remember
Filming took place over three months, from Feb. 16 to May 18, 1992, while the cast lived in a loft at 565 Broadway in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. Over the course of the 13 episodes that first premiered on May 21, New York saw its social experiment unfold in unexpected and captivating ways — Eric’s shirtless modeling shoots, Heather’s party antics, Norman’s bathtub confessionals — with the topic of race becoming a large issue in the house.
Oftentimes, Kevin found himself at odds with various roommates, notably Becky, Eric and Julie. While he was able to resolve his issues with the former two, his fight with Julie became one of the most iconic moments from the show. What started out as an off-camera incident, with Julie alleging that Kevin threatened her with a candlestick, spills out onto the streets as the two get into a heated discussion over race, bias and ignorance.
While admittedly not everything got resolved, Kevin saw the whole experience as “seven people from seven different walks of life basically trying to find themselves,” he told ET in 1992. “We’re all trying to find ourselves in our own particular way and define ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Julie also got a lot of attention from Eric, who seemed smitten with her. While their mild flirtations never went anywhere, much like Heather’s unrequited love for Hornets player Larry Johnson, both Becky and Norman seemed to find love. Norman, who slowly opens up about his sexuality throughout the season, finds the man of his dreams in a guy named Charlie. Becky commits the cardinal sin of The Real World and starts dating one of its directors.
That said, “these are seven of the most interesting people you’re going to find anywhere,” Eric said, with Andre adding at the time, “It was a blast. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The Show’s Impact
Inspired at the time by youth-oriented hits like Beverly Hills 90210, producing team Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray eventually came up with the core concept of the unscripted series, which became a surprise hit and helped define MTV for a whole new generation. But as Murray (aka “The Father of Reality TV”) told ET in 2014, “none of us had any idea it would continue even maybe past the first season.”
“When we started The Real World back in ’92, there weren’t a lot of other reality shows on the air,” Murray continued. “And what we were doing at that time — putting seven people in a house from different backgrounds — was very different from anything else in the television landscape. Our story came from their inexperience of living with people different from themselves, and that resulted in conflict, and that conflict resulted in growth, and that was our story arc.”
Since New York’s debut, The Real World has run for 33 seasons. Aside from each one taking place in a different city, the show’s core concept has stayed relatively the same. It also produced two spinoffs, Road Rules and The Challenge, with the latter now in its 36th season. Beyond the original seven, the rotating cast has also produced lasting favorites like the late Pedro Zamora, while many others — like Jamie Chung, Karamo Brown, Mike Mizanin, Sean Duffy and Tami Roman — have gone on to have successful careers in TV, film and politics.
While people are much more comfortable being in front of the camera now, Murray remembered having to coax the cast to open up and be themselves. “I think back to Norm from the first Real World. You know, when we met him, he identified as gay. When he showed up at the house, he was bisexual and then gradually he became more comfortable,” he revealed.
At the time, it was not common to see gay characters on TV, let alone a gay man living openly on a show like The Real World, which has shattered barriers and greatly expanded visibility for many marginalized communities on TV. The series also tackled major issues like class, diversity, mental illness, race, religion and sexuality, all of which still resonate today.
How to Watch
The entire first season is now streaming on Paramount+, which was previously known as CBS All Access. (Info about cost and signing up here.) Additionally, many of the original seasons — all in a different city while following the same basic concept of seven strangers living and working together — that came after are available to binge.
ET and Paramount+ are both subsidiaries of ViacomCBS.
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