Monday, Nov. 8, 2004 | 8:22 a.m.
It's not often you hear a reality series described as "David vs. Goliath."
But in the case of Spike TV's new documentary-style reality series, "The Club," the description is appropriate.
"The Club" was filmed at Ice, 200 E. Harmon Ave., the largest free-standing club in Las Vegas, where the Drink and Eat Too once stood. Unlike many of the other nightclubs in town, the off-the-Strip Ice has no casino to help bring in patrons which is where the David and Goliath plot comes into play.
It's also what helped attract the Spike network to the chic club.
"The clubs in the casinos all seemed to be the same, (but) Ice just seemed to have a very distinctive story. It was a club that already existed and that had a lot of challenges in terms of being a stand-alone club in Vegas that's not part of a casino," said Peilin Chou, vice president of original series for the Spike network.
"We could have done like a lot of other shows do, started from scratch and built the business. But we said, Let's take a look at something already in existence but has significant challenges.'"
Chou said the male-targeted network also was intrigued by the Las Vegas setting of the show, which premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday (Cox cable channel 29).
"We feel like Las Vegas is a very guy' city to us," Chou said. "And obviously, it has a very big personality."
As does Ice, from the colorful owner with a dream of expanding the nightclub into a worldwide brand to the Los Angeles promoter hired to recruit celebrities to the club.
"It seemed very ripe for a reality show," Chou said.
In late August a nearly 100-member crew set up in Ice for six weeks with the idea of documenting the behind-the-scenes world of a popular nightclub.
They got more than they bargained for, including some incredible real-life twists involving members of management (the details of which will be revealed later in the series). The turn of events ended up expanding the shooting schedule by another month, with some last-minute interviews still being filmed last week.
"It's definitely the most compelling footage of the series," she said. "Ultimately, it ended up being an incredible thing that happened in terms of good television."
Chou insists that what happens during the 10-episode series (each show lasts an hour) is all real.
"There's nothing contrived about it," she said. "So much of reality these days is manipulated to drive a story or an outcome. We were literally following the story with no idea of what was going to happen. Many of the players had no idea of what was going to happen. It's very real and spontaneous in the way reality shows are not."
It's nearly 11 a.m. on a hot August night in Las Vegas and Ice is about to open. By the way the camera crews are running around, though, you'd think the club was packed.
There's a group of six camera crews in the club. Included in each pack is someone holding a large boom microphone, and at least one person with a clipboard who seems to be in communication with the show's unseen director, who's busy monitoring what's being shot in a production trailer outside the club.
While other Las Vegas nightspots might get more attention simply because of proximity to the casinos, the national exposure a show such as "The Club" will have on Ice could be priceless.
"The exposure we're going to get will be phenomenal," Chuck Scimeca, food and beverage director for Ice, said. "It's a chance for us to be seen, not only in the city but across the country, and showcase what Ice is all about."
Already a few weeks into taping, word has leaked out around the city about the new reality series.
"The guests enjoy it immensely," Joe Lopez, general manager of Ice, said. "They want to get in front of the camera anyway they can. It's pretty cool."
But if anyone was at Ice for the cameras this night, they certainly didn't show it. "I'm going to have my party," said club-goer Marcus, who opted not to give his last name. "I don't care if John Kerry or George Bush walks in."
Meanwhile, other Ice patrons seemed oblivious to the TV crews.
"I didn't even notice them," said Lamar Siwel, standing on a sparsely crowded dance floor a few feet away from a crew. "I think if there were more people, the cameras would enhance the atmosphere."
However, his friend, Tiffany Lewis, said she felt self-conscious by the cameras.
"You can't be yourself," she said. "As long as I don't notice them, I can dance. But it's hard when they're in your face."
Reality vs. editing
When Ice announced to its employees the club was going to be the focus of a new reality series, workers were given an option: be part of the show or take a six-week unpaid leave of absence from the club during taping.
All but two stayed.
Three weeks into filming, Kate Cageao, a bartender at the club since it opened in August 2003, doesn't regret her decision to be filmed.
"I think it's the strangest thing I've ever been a part of," she said. "It's weird to have to watch what you say and to have bright cameras in your face, especially when you're working."
While she gets annoyed with having to speak in complete sentences during interviews and referring to employees by their names instead of pronouns, she only has one concern about being on the show: how she'll be perceived.
"I'm definitely interested in how they portray me and to see how it gets twisted," she said. "And if they use different dialogues that may or may not have happened that day or time."
Likewise, bartender Gerald Pacheco is worried about coming across in an unfavorable light on the series due to selective editing.
"It's the only thing I'm scared of," he said. "I don't want to come across to my family as a bad guy. The last people I want to let down is family."
Pacheco's girlfriend, Stacey Reddick, a cocktail waitress at the club, also had concerns about the truth being twisted for the sake of drama.
"(Reality shows) are always flip-flopping things around," she said.
Then Reddick talked to her mom about the show.
"She said, 'We know how reality shows work. We're not worried about you,' " she said.
Bartender Tommy Ippolito seems to be in the minority when he says he's not concerned about how he comes across on the show.
"I have trust in the producers and crew," he said. "They said they were not going to portray us in a bad light or edit (a scene) into something that it's not.
"Of course, you always hear the horror stories on the other shows. The cast says that's not how it happened. Hopefully, that won't happen (to us)."
While Spike TV is perhaps best known for its anti-reality series, "The Joe Schmo Show," and its sequel, "Joe Schmo 2," last spring, Chou said there are high hopes for "The Club" at the network.
"We're very excited," she said. "We're giving it the 'CSI' lead-in, which is the best lead-in you can have right now."
"CSI," a hit for CBS, airs in reruns on Spike.
The network plans to air six episodes of "The Club" on consecutive weeks before taking a break during the holidays to air special programming, such as the James Bond movie marathon. The series will then conclude in January.
Looking ahead, if "The Club" does become a success, Chou said the network will gladly return to Ice next year for another season.
"I think that's the great thing about the potential of this show," she said. "A lot of times for another season on a reality show, they think, 'What are we going to do?' But because it's just like real life there and it's so compelling, we just turn the cameras on and season two, here we go."