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10 YEARS LATER : Dazed and Bemused


NBC's "Class Reunion" is the true story of 15 former high school classmates picked to take up temporary residence in two houses and have their lives put on tape as they prepare for their 10-year high school reunion.

It's like MTV's "Real World" but with a twist: The people involved aren't strangers. These graduates of Portland's Parkrose High School in Oregon have more history and unresolved conflicts than the gang on "Melrose Place."

There's the shy, ugly duckling turned swan who gives her housemates a surprise. There's the ultimate party girl, who hated the elite "soc" (for social) clique, discovering that she has more in common with an ex-jock than she ever thought.

And there's a former "soc," who loved pushing everyone's buttons, trying to reclaim his friendship with one of the most popular girls in school. She has never forgiven him for writing a letter to her now-husband telling him he was making a mistake by dating her.

"Class Reunion," which airs Saturday in the form of a two-hour movie, is the brainchild of executive producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, the creators of MTV's Generation X cinema-verite dramas "The Real World" and "Road Rules."

"NBC asked us to come up with something in the docuopera genre and we went back to them with a couple of ideas," Bunim says. "This was one we all got excited about."

Murray says they chose a high school reunion over college because high school is a much more dramatic experience.

"A lot happens to you when you leave high school," he explains. "Generally, people are dramatically changed between when they left high school and when we again encounter them at their 10th reunion, yet they are still close enough to their high school experience that they can remember it vividly."

Adds Bunim: "In a public high school, there is usually a tremendous amount of diversity within the class, a socioeconomic diversity. Some kids go to college and some don't."

Murray and Bunim's research department hunted for five months for the right high school. Researchers put out feelers on the Internet, contacted high school reunion organizers and schools.

"They would get little nibbles," Murray says. "They would find one person who was in the class of 1986 at some school outside of Atlanta and they would talk to that person and ask, 'Who are your friends? Who do you have phone numbers for?' They worked the tree of that class to see what they would come up with. We ended up probably talking to at least 300 different schools. Ultimately, we came down to three schools that we felt had people who would both be strong enough on television and would also bring stories and unfinished business."

For a variety of reasons, but principally the stories, Bunim says "we decided on Portland."

"Real World," now in its fifth season, shoots for 20 weeks; "Road Rules," currently in its second year, shoots for 8 weeks. "Class Reunion" was shot in less than a week last May.

"What was wonderful was that these people really became comfortable with the cameras incredibly fast," Murray says. "I think part of it was that this was exciting for them to see these old friends and meet these people. They were caught up in the event that was going on, so they weren't as reflecting on the cameras as they might be if nothing big was happening right then.

"Plus, in the interviewing and casting process, we did a lot of that on tape. We had cameras follow these people around and got a sense if they could relax and be themselves in front of a camera. It is important when you have a short period of time that the people walking in are going to be quickly very comfortable with the cameras."

The movie's "ultimate story," Bunim says, is Marne Lucas, the once overweight wallflower who had to use crutches her freshman and sophomore years at Parkrose after hip surgeries. Her transformation occurred after high school, when she grew six inches, lost 20 pounds, went to Europe with a boyfriend and became a model.

Lucas acknowledges that she hated Parkrose and had no intention of going to the reunion until she got a call from Bunim and Murray. Her only friend from Parkrose, Marilyn, with whom she is still close, had given the producers her name.

She agreed to participate in "Class Reunion" because it was the ultimate "revenge of the nerds" story.

"I thought I wouldn't be able to relate to anybody and thought I would end up being shy again," says Lucas, who had transferred to a magnate arts high school in her senior year. "But it was actually really fun. The reunion itself was not that exciting. It was just one evening in a big room."

Lucas really felt "fortunate that I got to live in the house with my classmates because I got to know everyone and I have run into a few of them since then. I realized everybody hated high school. They have had all kinds of problems since high school and have gone through things I haven't necessarily gone through. I really felt like I knew where they are coming from."

Featured prominently throughout the movie is Lucas' hysterically funny yearbook. She had defaced her photo and had drawn over her classmates' faces. "I was like Miss Low Self-Esteem," she says.

Retired from modeling, the Portland-based Lucas is a bartender and stylist for music videos. And perhaps Hollywood will beckon after the movie airs.

"I haven't yet visualized what will come of this," Lucas says with a laugh. "If they asked me to do a Tide commercial, I would do it in a heartbeat!"

As for Bunim and Murray, they hope to make more such programs for the networks. "This really was an effort to see if this sort of cross between documentary and drama would work in a two-hour format," Bunim says. "We are convinced it does."

"Class Reunion" airs Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

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