Masters Of Design

Motor City Masters host Brooke Burns, yours truly, fellow judge Harald Belker

I’m back in the swing of things in Michigan after spending several weeks in California working on Motor City Masters, a new Chevrolet-sponsored reality show on the truTV network. MCM is a competition among ten contestants to find the next great car designer.

Yes, yes. Hyperbole is TV. But let me continue.

There are reality shows, and then there are reality shows. There is trainwreck reality -- Honey BooBoo, Swamp People, Total Divas, to name a few shows I have watched with one horrified eye while perusing the National Enquirer with the other horrified eye.

Then there is competition-style reality based on skills the average pork-rind-eating viewer might not possess— Top Chef, Best Ink, Project Runway —that come with crazy challenges, ridiculous time constraints, and fat payoffs ($100K and a new Camaro for the MCM winner) that force talent and creativity to bubble up before our eyes. All that, and bad behavior, meltdowns, failure, and then, in the case of Motor City Masters, some pretty cool automotive-design moments using Chevy vehicles as the basis of ten sometimes crazy, always wild design challenges.

Good car shows are few and far between in TV land. When Chevy asked me to have an early read of the Motor City Masters treatment by Bunim/Murray, the creators of MTV’s groundbreaking reality show The Real World, I knew I was looking at something I wanted to see on TV.

Then they asked if I wanted to be on TV.

I was one of two regular judges, with a different celebrity judge joining us each week. In the style of Project Runway, a host would be the narrator who sewed it all together. The contestants were an intriguing mix of young and old, student and car-company veteran, classic designer and classic car builder. Of course I said yes. A nondisclosure contract prevents me from spilling a single bean, but . . .

It began when Chevy surprised me with the loan of a screaming yellow Corvette Stingray. I arrived at the studio, found my special parking place, and met young Brooke Gadinsky-Snyder, my new assistant. Every day, she waited on a folding chair next to my assigned parking spot, ready to grab my bag, hold an umbrella over my head, and force a water bottle into my hand. I am serious.

She ushered me to my dressing room high above the elimination stage where I would send the first losing contestant home four days later. I was introduced to my makeup artist, Diane Mayo, a rock-and-roller with mad airbrush and false-eyelash skills, and my stylist, Catherine Sheppard, who spent each day dressing me, photographing outfits for executive approval, tearing them off, and then doing it all over again. I was such a sartorial basket case that she needed her own assistant to keep me pressed, dressed, and ready for my close-up.

For judge number two, I was expecting a designer who is four inches shorter than I am, a horrific TV image. But he bailed. Instead, I was joined by Harald Belker, a funny German from Dusseldorf with an impressive portfolio of sci-fi movie cars, from Batmobiles to Transformers to the alien spaceship in Armageddon. He currently works for Anki, a robotics/AI company. Most important, Belker is six-foot-seven in flip-flops. There is a god.

The host, the glue that kept it together, was Maxim cover girl and former Baywatch babe Brooke Burns—a gorgeous, smart Texan with the whitest teeth, the tallest stilettos, the shortest outfits, and a startlingly accurate Munchkin impression that she used to entertain the crew.

From my side of the camera, Motor City Masters is gangbusters. Every time I hit the set, I couldn’t wait to see what challenge the increasingly bashed and battered designers would face. I loved the human drama that played out unexpectedly as they broke into teams and went to work. And then, the reveal of the team projects.

I might as well tell you, it was decided I would be “the bad judge,” the one who bitch-slapped our ten (then there were nine) every week as they wailed away with pens, pencils, grinders, welders. I was the one who poked their sores (then there were eight), picked off their scabs (then there were seven), and questioned their every move. I was not happy about it, but it was I, every single episode, who had to deliver that terrifying, crushing blow. Then there were two.

I heard there were tears. I couldn’t tell you even if I knew. I hope you enjoy it.

Motor City Masters premieres June 24 at 10:00 p.m. on truTv.

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