Extreme Behavior on the Upper East Side … Extreme Boxing for Eric Nies

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When you think of Sutton Place, what immediately comes to mind? High-priced hookers, of course! At least that’s what Showtime thinks, as it mulls red, er, green-lighting Extreme Behavior , a 22-episode series about the lives of high-priced Upper East Side call girls created by Coyote Ugly screenwriter (yes, there was a screenplay for Coyote Ugly ) Gina Wendkos and Hollywood cheese whiz ( Top Gun , Armageddon , Flashdance ) Jerry Bruckheimer.

On a recent morning, Ms. Wendkos met with a reporter inside the plush, velvety confines of the W Hotel at 39th Street and Lexington Avenue. A petite, blue-eyed woman in her early 40’s, Ms. Wendkos sat in a clamshell-shaped sofa, and with a trickle of soft jazz playing in the background, she spoke about her efforts to bring television life to the world’s oldest profession and its Upper East Side practitioners.

“They frequent the St. Regis, they go to the Peninsula, they go to the Plaza,” Ms. Wendkos said. “These are the hotels where the men get rooms. And they go to Elizabeth Arden; they go to the best of the best on Fifth Avenue. They shop at Prada, and Bergdorf’s next door is their little commissary. These are girls who have very expensive maintenance.”

Indeed. Ms. Wendkos’ hookers are not the Andrew-Jackson-for-a-Lewinsky type you find around 14th Street and Ninth Avenue. “These are $5,000-an-hour girls,” she said. “They are huge, expensive girls.”

Ms. Wendkos said she has long been fascinated with call girls, ever since she was in her early 20’s and struggling to make it as a writer in Manhattan. One of her first jobs was writing little scripts for the women who answered 976 phone lines (“I just had to write my imagination. You know, like ‘Put your hand there.'”) Ms. Wendkos also worked extensively in theater and performance art, where, she said, she encountered a number of women who were professionally hustling on the side.

“It was interesting to see their lives and the different belief systems they had from civilians,” Ms. Wendkos said. “You know–the different rationales some of them used, and the different attitudes they had about sex and men and money.”

Ms. Wendkos said Extreme Behavior , originally titled Sutton Place , does not attempt to condemn or even moralize on the issue of prostitution. If that ruffles feathers, so be it. “I think [people] will be uncomfortable with the notion that I’m saying it’s not only okay to be a hooker, but it’s a viable job, it’s a good job,” Ms. Wendkos said. “It’s like being a nurse with a twist.”

Yeah … exactly ! Extreme Behavior revolves around the lives of three main characters, call girls all, as well as a host of recurring characters, some of whom are johns, Ms. Wendkos said. “It’s really a character study of three women,” she continued. “It just so happens that this is their profession.” Of course, it helps things out that their profession calls on them to get naked a lot. “It’s very sexual,” Ms. Wendkos acknowledged. “A lot of sex is in the show, because it’s Showtime. You can show anything. And there’s a lot there.”

Yes, indeedy. You can start to see why Mr. Bruckheimer, the maestro behind everything from Con Air to Remember the Titans , would be drawn to something like Extreme Behavior when Ms. Wendkos pitched it. “I thought it was a cool show, and I had already done a movie with Jerry Bruckheimer, so when he said he wanted to do TV, I said, ‘All right, let’s do this,'” Ms. Wendkos said. “And he said ‘Cool,’ and Showtime said ‘Yeah.'”

Actually, Showtime won’t officially decide on Extreme Behavior for at least a couple of weeks, after Ms. Wendkos submits her script for the show’s pilot. If they like it, they’ll move for 22 episodes–with some scenes shot on location in New York, Ms. Wendkos said. Ms. Wendkos also said she intends to bring Permanent Midnight author Jerry Stahl, her ex-boyfriend, aboard as a co-writer for the show. Ms. Wendkos called Mr. Stahl a “brilliant, brilliant writer.”

And Ms. Wendkos isn’t doing so badly herself. Currently, she has two more screenplays under production. One, The Princess Diaries , is being directed by Garry Marshall, and another, Maggie’s Men , is in the works with Mr. Bruckheimer. “This is a great time,” she said. “I’m afraid to say it. It’s as good as it’s gotten for me, I can say that.” And Coyote Ugly earned more than $60 million at the box office, even if it got clobbered by the critics. “You get used to it,” Ms. Wendkos said of the bad reviews of the film. “I’ve been writing for 15 years, and every year I get reviewed for something. And the good ones feel good, but they don’t last, and the bad ones feel bad, and they don’t last, either.”

And hey, it sure beats turning tricks for a living. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. “They say that anything you do that you don’t like doing, you’re whoring yourself for the money,” Ms. Wendkos said. “It’s just that it’s more acceptable if you are in a 9-to-5 grind.”

Speaking of which, tonight, from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., it’s the second of the 2000 Presidential Debates . Both Al Gore and George W. Bush are confident that they will be able to reach out and connect with voters, since it’s a Wednesday and, unlike Oct. 3, they won’t be up against an episode of Dark Angel . That Jessica Alba could run as a third-party candidate and smoke everybody! [WABC, WCBS, MSNBC, CNN, FNC, WNET et al., 9 p.m.]

Thursday, Oct. 12

Were you wondering whatever happened to Eric Nies, the abdominal-six-packed male model from New Jersey who was a popular cast member of the inaugural, New York-taped edition of The Real World ? Neither were we–until Mr. Nies’ rep phoned up to say the former MTV hunk was now on some new, weird boxing show on MSG called Thunderbox . Perplexed, we arranged to talk to Mr. Nies on the phone from his hotel room in Las Vegas.

” Thunderbox is a new professional heavyweight boxing league,” Mr. Nies said. The deal, he explained, is that some 16 boxers go into the ring in pairs for six-round skirmishes, try to knock the stuffing out of each other and earn points not only for wins and knockouts, but also for style, flair and trash-talking. Apparently Thunderbox ‘s operating conceit is that regular old-fashioned professional boxing is dull and unappealing to the coveted 18-to-35-year-old demographic. Mr. Nies called Thunderbox “not your father’s boxing” and “the W.W.F. meets professional boxing”–turns of phrase that ought to warm the cockles of an advertiser’s heart.

Mr. Nies serves as one of Thunderbox ‘s hosts, alongside surname-challenged comedian Godfrey. If that’s not enough to hook you, there’s also the Thunderbox Thundergirls. “The Thundergirl is there for support for her man,” Mr. Nies said. “She comes to the ring looking sexy and talking trash for her boxer and just being in the corner and looking fabulous.”

Thunderbox episodes are being taped in Vegas and in New York at the Hammerstein Ballroom. So far everyone’s having a swell time, Mr. Nies said: “It’s just exciting. There’s girls dancing, there’s a performance–Wyclef Jean opened up the first show, and he rocked it–and the crowd is up. It’s like a concert with a boxing match, with a D.J. in a club, and then you got your guys down there smoking cigars ringside along with your, like, 21-year-old supermodel, you know what I’m saying? It’s pretty hot, man!”

It was time to change the subject. NYTV asked Mr. Nies–he’s a reality-TV pioneer, after all–how he would have fared on that Survivor show. “I don’t think I would have won Survivor ,” he said. “I think they would have kicked me off because I would have been able to last. I think I would have been a threat to everybody … I could last months, a year, on an island with just fruit, water and rice, you know?”

We know. Incidentally, NYTV caught some old Real World New York episodes running on repeats recently and, in retrospect, that was a pretty mature, together bunch: They had, like, jobs and stuff and some of them even had consciences and points of view. In fact, today’s whiny, insipid Real World casts make Mr. Nies and his colleagues look like a regular Algonquin roundtable.

Tonight on MTV, Britney’s MTV Moments . When Eric Nies was on The Real World , Britney Spears was, like, 2. [MTV, 20, 8 p.m.]

Friday, Oct. 13

Nash Bridges . C’mon! You can’t live your entire life without ever watching this show. [WCBS, 2, 10 p.m.]

Saturday, Oct. 14

Tonight on Saturday Night Live , Kate Hudson and Radiohead. Keep that grouchy art rocker Thom Yorke away from Ms. Hudson’s beau, Chris Robinson of the Black Crows. [WNBC, 4, 11:30 p.m.]

Sunday, Oct. 15

On HBO tonight, the premiere of Seinfeld creator Larry David’s new series, Curb Your Enthusiasm . Insert your hearty, knowing praise here. [HBO, 32, 9:30 p.m.]

Monday, Oct. 16

On tonight’s Channel 2 News at 11 , ace TV journo and Clinton-Lazio debate moderator Marcia (“Five-Cent E-mails”) Kramer brings you the shocking story of a man who woke up on a block of ice only to discover that … his … kidneys … had been … removed! [WCBS, 2, 11 p.m.]

Tuesday, Oct. 17

Tonight is the third and final round of the 2000 Presidential Debates , and it’s also a Tuesday, so you know what that means: Dark Angel time!

One guy who won’t be sneaking off to watch Dark Angel (at least we think) is CBS News’ Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host, Bob Schieffer. Mr. Schieffer has to watch the debates because it’s part of his job. But it’s not such a bad deal, he said–at least the dang Presidential race is close this year. “When you have a good race, I think it’s just like in baseball or any other sport–it brings out the best in everybody,” Mr. Schieffer said. “I think we do our best reporting and analysis when you have something that is interesting and close and fun to report on.”

Indeed, say what you will about Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush, but it’s certainly more competitive than the dreary 1996 campaign, when President Clinton had already left Bob Dole in the dust by debate season and, according to Mr. Schieffer, the press was just hoping the Senator could get a few licks in. “It was one of those things where nobody thought Dole was going to win–he was such an underdog that I think people let themselves sort of get into the mode of ‘I really hope he does well, because I like him personally and I’d like to see him zing Clinton a couple of times,’ or something like that,” Mr. Schieffer said. “It was not so much that they [reporters] were Dole partisans, but they liked Dole and they wanted to see him do well, and I think a lot of them were maybe secretly rooting for him.”

Well, a lot of good that did for poor old Bob Dole. Tonight, catch Mr. Schieffer, his fellow Texan Dan Rather and the rest of the CBS News gang try to make sense of Mr. Gore, Mr. Bush and their subliminal messages. [WCBS, 2, 9 p.m.]

Extreme Behavior on the Upper East Side … Extreme Boxing for Eric Nies