Reality Didn’t Bite on Fire Island
By David Crohn

When Bunim-Murray—producers of such reality entertainment hits as “The Simple Life” and “The Real Cancun”—announced in May that they’d be giving Fire Island the reality TV treatment, many residents and officials were not pleased. But Ocean Beach, chagrined to find no law barring shooting in the village, accepted the incursion after Bunim-Murray agreed to a laundry list of no-nos and strictures.

While most of the island was nursing hangovers after five days of July Fourth festivities this week, production quietly wrapped on Wednesday. Except for one ugly episode in Kismet last Sunday—and the infamous Father’s Day copter fiasco in Ocean Beach—interaction among cast and crew and island was, by most accounts, copasetic.

Year rounder Ginny Horton said the only time she even knew the reality folks were here was when she had to go around them with her cart. “It didn’t bother me too much,” she said. “You flow with the tide here.”

The show, “One Ocean View,” followed a gang of 10 to 12 twentysomethings dining, relaxing and yes, hot tubbing, as they spent five weekends at a Corneille Estates summer share. The docusoap is set to air on ABC later this month.

Shooting went around the clock. The bulk of the time, the “talent” was shot at the four-bedroom beachfront house owned by Ocean Beach real estate agent Meg Wallace. When cast and crew ventured outside, they were ordered to wrap up by 11 p.m. The village required a police officer to chaperone each four-person crew, at Bunim-Murray’s expense.

Although the cast traveled elsewhere around the island, most outdoor shooting was in Ocean Beach, which is, after all, the “unofficial capital” of Fire Island. You may have seen the crews setting up their shots all over the village, from Bocce Beach to Maguire’s. Harried production assistants chased down vacationers caught on camera to have them sign waivers for permission to be put on TV.

Acting Police Chief George Hesse said shooting went “smoothly.”

“They were as professional as professional can be,” Hesse said. “And we expected there to be a problem—but there was nothing.”

But most Fire Island communities lack a police force. Take Kismet, for example, where last Sunday cast and crew were greeted with jeers and screams at the beach. In the afternoon, when the crew was shooting cast members having a romantic dinner, patrons threw food and loose change.

“We found the town to be extremely aggressive in protecting themselves,” said Director of Photography Benjamin Wolf. “They think they’re achieving something but they’re really just saying something about their town.”

The hostilities peaked when someone sprayed water on the equipment and the crew had to bring in the Suffolk County police to cool off the hostile natives.

Ocean Beachers vociferated when, on Father’s Day, a loud helicopter grabbing aerial shots circled the beach over Corneille for hours—or so it seemed. A contrite producer wrote in to this newspaper to apologize.

When the L.A.-based production company first contacted Ocean Beach about shooting in the village, Hesse was tasked with checking out their references from other towns nationwide where they’ve shot. When he announced the results of his findings at a town meeting in May, many residents seized on the slightest mention of drunken debauchery to complain—even though most other town officials reported that the crews were quiet and respectful.

Wallace said she initially sympathized with people’s concerns.

“There were a couple of people who opened their umbrellas before it started to rain,” she said. But as a Fire Islander herself, she said she wouldn’t have done anything to jeopardize the village’s reputation as a down-to-earth, family friendly vacation spot. She moved out of the four-bedroom house the weekend before Memorial Day, and speaking to The Fire Island News on July 4, said she couldn’t wait to get back home. “The tough part will be changing it from a TV set to a home again.”