Follow Tommy Lee as he goes to college -- EW goes behind the scenes as the Motley Crue wild man invades a campus for an educational reality TV experiment
Tommy Lee
Credit: Tommy Lee Photograph by Bryce Duffy

The clock has just inched past 10:50 a.m. in a lecture hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, and 200 students are trying their darnedest to pay attention as a bespectacled chemistry professor drones on about ionic compounds. It’s tough stuff, but there’s one person in particular who seems a little more lost than everyone else. You know him as Tommy Lee, the unhinged, nose-ringed drummer of Mötley Crüe. But right now, he’s just another baseball-hat-wearing Husker staring blankly at a dry-erase board.

”Wanna look like you know what you’re doing?” whispers a student next to him. ”You take 10 and subtract it from the total amount of valence.”

Lee — preoccupied with a three-page paper due tomorrow in English class on a book he hasn’t read yet — squints at the board and appears to have the Lightbulb Moment. He scribbles away, glancing up at the professor. A cameraman, stationed in the corner of the room, zooms in on Lee’s notebook. Turns out Tommy’s written only three words: I’M SO F—ED.

And that’s just the way he wants it. Tommy Lee Goes to College (premiering Aug. 16 at 9 p.m. on NBC) is a ridiculous reality-comedy experiment that thrives on its tatted hero’s confusion: The six-episode series follows Lee as he takes classes, bunks with an undergrad, and soaks up campus life. It’s as if higher education were kneed in the groin and tossed in a mosh pit. ”Dude, this is so fish- out-of-water,” Lee says with a Butthead chuckle. ”Rock star goes to college in middle America? People are going to trip the f— out.”

Lee may not have been the original choice for enrollment — the producers were first turned down by ex-Journey frontman Steve Perry — but he’s certainly an inspired one. Mr. Mötley has sold millions of records, married/divorced hot women like Heather Locklear and Pamela Anderson, and earned a doctorate in the hedonistic arts with his sextracurricular activities — such as becoming the biggest accidental porn star in history, thanks to a stolen home video. When Lee heard the concept, recalls an exec producer who goes by the name of BT, ”there was a pause, and the first thing out of his mouth, he’s like, ‘Dude, can I live in the chicks’ dorm?”’

That answer would be no. But NBC said yes to the series faster than a frat guy headed toward a ”Dollar Drafts” sign. ”I think we started the negotiations [while] he was still in the parking lot,” says NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly. ”It just felt like one of those funny ideas that was a no-brainer.” Still, a university had to be persuaded to welcome a 42-year-old metal star with a dubious past: Lee served several months in jail for spousal abuse of Anderson in 1998. Then there’s his academic record: Mostly a C student, Lee dropped out of Royal Oak High School in Covina, Calif., a few months shy of graduation after the Crüe signed a record deal in 1980. ”We got reasonable assurances from NBC as to what the show was designed to do,” says UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman, explaining why the school signed on last fall. ”The plus side was some national exposure among a group of prospective students who we’re trying to recruit.”